Entertainment

'Shut Up' never does, and that's a boon

The show is called "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!" But the actors barely clam up for a nanosecond, which is the key to this experience.

Scott Richard Foster and Antoinette LaVecchia play married humorists Jeff Kahn and Annabelle Gurwitch, who wrote the script with additional material by David Koteles. (Apparently, even accomplished authors need a third pair of hands on their autobiography.)

The actors flood Stage Door Theater with a torrent of endearments, loving insults, squabbles, wry monologues, passionate outbursts, sentences left unfinished or finished by the other. Some exchanges strike directly to the funny bone or, occasionally, the heart. A couple meander, becoming the verbal equivalent of a Jackson Pollock drip painting: You have to dig a bit to see the pattern.

The overall effect leaves you feeling that, after 80 intermissionless minutes, you really know Kahn and Gurwitch: If you met them after the show for drinks, you could start a conversation about their personal lives without hesitation or preamble. (Though folks who object to mildly naughty language or moderately frank discussions about sex may be a bit put off.)

More to the point, you'd want to know them. As exasperating as the stage Gurwitch can be in her complete anti-romanticism, as clueless as the stage Kahn occasionally seems to be about how to treat his wife, we empathize as we laugh.

Darren Katz, resident director of 'The Lion King' on Broadway, proves he can work just as well with a microcosmic world. He allows Foster just one foray into the audience, which makes that dash effective, and uses only one loud side effect for a comic moment. He and the adroit actors get laughs by revving up the pace to the level of the real Gurwitch and Kahn (who speak in interlocking bursts) but never letting the dialogue become mere wisecrackery.

The show has just two drawbacks. It's set in a high-end restaurant where they sit with menus for 75 minutes, without ordering or being approached by a waiter; the pair refer to this delay self-consciously, but the set-up doesn't work. (I'd have bought it, if they'd already ordered and were waiting for overdue food.)

And the "should we really even be married" segment in the middle blows up as suddenly as a waterspout from a calm sea, soon after a half-teasing fuss over a Facebook page. I'd happily have sat through 10 more minutes of emotional build-up to make that transition.

The show has a strong homegrown element: Lighting designer John Hartness, sound designer Jeff Montgomerie and costume and production designer Gillian Albinski all live here, and Blumenthal Performing Arts co-produced. So tweaks can be made before "Tomato" rolls on to other American locales and, perhaps, Europe.

Maybe the producers worry that seen-it-all audiences in bigger cities won't sit still for a 90-minute one-act. They're right not to break the momentum with an intermission but wrong about length: It takes time to get to know new friends, and the company of Kahn and Gurwitch doesn't pall.

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