If we are to believe what we see in the current production at the Jaeb Theatre, Jeff Kahn is among the most pitiable people on earth. Kahn wrote You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up! with his wife, Annabelle Gurwitch. It's a two-person show about the history of a marriage between two characters named Jeff Kahn and Annabelle Gurwitch. It's more than reasonable to assume the marriage portrayed is a fair representation of their own.
Jeff, from what we can glean from the show, is a pretty nice guy who even after a long courtship and a decade of marriage is still madly in love with his wife. He dotes on her, compliments her, lusts for her.
Annabelle, or at least the version of her portrayed here, is despicable. When they first meet, she knows Jeff's interested in her, so she uses him, demanding huge favors, and then doesn't even remember his name the next time she sees him. She agrees to marry him because she likes the ring he gives her.
She makes him buy his own anniversary presents and then give her the receipts so she can get the tax deduction. She generally makes it quite clear that Jeff is a major inconvenience in her life.
Gurwitch and Kahn — the writers, not the characters — have some solid credits. She was the host of Dinner & a Movie on TBS, and she wrote a book called Fired! and starred in the play and movie versions. Kahn's an Emmy-winning writer (The Ben Stiller Show) and a recognizable film actor (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). They played themselves in the original production of You Say Tomato.
In the Straz Center production, they're played by Jonathan Van Dyke and Gabrielle Mirabella. Van Dyke, who recently appeared in Boeing Boeing in the same theater, is likable and suitably bland as Jeff. It's a bit harder to judge the quality of Mirabella's performance. Assuming her intent is to make her character thoroughly mean and utterly repellent, she does a great job. If we're meant to like Annabelle even the tiniest little bit, then Mirabella misses the mark.
The show has the two characters acting out scenes from their lives together, from their first meeting to their 10th anniversary. They break from the scenes, played on a set that consists of nothing but a few tables and chairs, to make observations about their relationship directly to the audience. (One woman in the rear of the theater at Saturday's matinee felt entitled to shout replies whenever the characters posed rhetorical questions, and to holler "woo-hoo!" every time they kissed.)
It's no fun spending time with Annabelle and impossible to discern what Jeff could possibly see in her, but a more essential problem is that the show simply isn't witty. There are a few scattered chuckles (or at least some people in the audience chuckled) but no real laughs. The jokes are tired — pregnant Annabelle remarks that her butt is expanding faster than Starbucks — and the observations about relationships are downright comatose.
The dialogue is well-written, though, and that, together with show's brevity, makes the proceedings bearable.
Still, after the inevitably but nonsensically saccharine ending, you're likely to be glad the show's over. And you're likely to be downright thrilled that you're not married to Annabelle Gurwitch.
Times correspondent Marty Clear can be reached at [email protected]