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 PLPlayhouse.com.