Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up

You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn, featuring Robin Abramson and Gregory Johnstone, at Penn's Landing Playhouse. Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield.

Review: You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up


by Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn’s You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, currently making a stop at the Penn’s Landing Playhouse, bills itself as “the hilarious comedy about relationships, love and marriage.” Many, many people have paid good money to watch spouses complain about each other: think Albee’s George and Martha, Durang’s Bette and Boo, most of Shakespeare’s comedic couples. We watch because they show us what goes on behind other people’s closed doors and reveal some uncomfortable truths about the states of our own unions. Their extremes make them compelling, allow us to keep watching and often, laughing.

Gurwitch and Kahn are a real-life Los Angeles couple, she a mid-level television personality, actor and writer, he an Emmy-winning writer (for MTV’s The Ben Stiller Show) and actor. Their show reconstructs an odd courtship (five years of Gurwitch ignoring Kahn, one month when Gurwitch, moving to New York for a work stint, unceremoniously dumps her cat on Kahn’s doorstep, and finally, a date), strained marriage, and parenthood of a son who is, obviously, “amazing.” 

Neither actor, Robin Abramson’s Gurwitch nor Gregory Johnstone’s Kahn, wears a wedding band, and while it’s unclear if this is Van Kaplan’s directorial decision or just an oversight, it’s certainly telling. Seated at a restaurant table on the eve of their 10th anniversary--a restaurant that apparently hosts no other customers, employs no waitstaff, serves no food, and allows them to address an audience--Kahn and Gurwitch desperately attempt to convince us they’re a happy couple. Kahn confesses he hoped marriage would be “a chance to try out some really kinky karma sutra. [sic]” Gurwitch hates lingerie and sex (though she doesn’t mind bragging about all the men she bagged before marriage). 

His Facebook page has a dubious relationship status, she argues with him about it onstage and on the page, for us and all their friends to see. One of the many differences between these awful narcissists and, say George and Martha, is that Albee recognized his characters’ pathologies and exploited them; Gurwitch and Kahn mistake theirs for charm. There are boring, unhappy couples everywhere, it’s true, but you sure don’t have to pay to watch them.

Playing at: Penn’s Landing Playhouse, 211 S. Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia. Through Sunday, Nov. 24. Tickets: $35-$55. Information: 855-HIT-SHOW or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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