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'Tomato' ripe with laughs, relatable topics

| Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Robin Abramson and Gregory Johnstone in Pittsburgh CLO's 'You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!' Pittsburgh CLO

Review

Couple a sweetly romantic guy with a down-to-earth career woman, and the resulting relationship plays out somewhere between “Romeo and Juliet” and “Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?”

Inhabiting that middle ground where, on occasion, you want to kill the spouse you also love is familiar territory to anyone who has been married for longer than a few months.

That's where Jeff Kahn and Annabelle Gurwitch, played by Gregory Johnstone and Robin Abramson, find themselves as they embark on a rare evening out to celebrate their 10th anniversary in “You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!”

The 75-minute, two-character show is playing through May 5 at The Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, as a production of the CLO Cabaret.

The comedic exploration of the pleasures and pitfalls of marriage was created and written by real-life marriage partners Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn.

Gurwitch is most widely known as the co-host of “Dinner & a Movie” on TBS and has written articles for magazines that include “More,” “Glamour” and “The Nation.”

Kahn's writing career includes an Emmy for his work on “The Ben Stiller Show,” and he has been seen in acting roles on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Entourage” and films that include “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “The Cable Guy.”

Before Gurwitch and Kahn adapted it for the stage, “You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!” had incarnations as a stand-up comedy routine and a book.

The show takes a comedic, two-perspective look at all the expected marital topics, beginning with reminiscing about and arguing over their separately remembered details of how they met, their courtship and wedding before moving on to other predictable topics in sequence — pregnancy, sex, child-rearing styles, exhausting careers, etc.

Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera executive producer Van Kaplan directs, keeping the pace quick, the transitions smooth and the topics light and funny.

Scenic designer Tony Ferrieri provides the couple with a beautifully conceived restaurant for their anniversary dinner, full of solid Arts and Crafts architectural details.

Abramson, familiar to area audiences for her recent roles in Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's “The School for Lies” and City Theatre's “Maple and Vine,” brings sly humor and quick wit to the self-possessed Annabelle.

Playing the foil to Annabelle's assertiveness is Johnstone, who makes Jeff lovably unsure and boyish. CLO Cabaret audiences will know him from his appearance there in “Shear Madness” as well as roles in Quantum Theatre's “The Golden Dragon” and “Grey Zone” with barebones productions.

The show breaks no new ground nor offers new insights. But it isn't meant to.

While it's cute, it never crosses over into saccharine.

It does spark those gentle nudges, glances, knowing smiles and laughs of recognition that couples exchange when they recognize their own behaviors or those of their spouses.

The result is a reassuring and often funny reminder that those annoying differences also enhance a relationship.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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