Broadway World review: A BAD YEAR FOR TOMATOES “will keep you laughing from start to finish”
John Patrick, the prolific writer of plays including The Teahouse of the August Moon (for which he received the Tony® Award) and The Hasty Heart, and screenwriter of Les Girls (Writers Guild Award winner), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Oscar® nomination), The World of Suzie Wong, High Society, and The Shoes of the Fisherman, wrote the hilarious, action-packed three-door farce A BAD YEAR FOR TOMATOES in 1974. And even though the plot seems just a bit too silly at times, under the steady guidance of director Larry Eisenberg, the three-door well-designed set by Jeff G. Rack is utilized to great comic effect each time the doorbell rings or a character dashes in or out to confront whichever new visitor just happens to come by for a visit. No doubt, that’s a good enough excuse to keep your door locked in Beaver Haven, Vermont.
Everything seems perfect at first for the famous actress Myra Marlowe (Diana Angelina) who has leased a fully-furnished “country living” style house so she can settle down to write her autobiography. But it’s not so ideal for her long-time agent Tom Lamont (David Datz) who wants nothing more than to get the headstrong actress back to Hollywood to star in a new television series, even though both of them know how badly it is written. Myra waivers but sticks to her guns, fed up with the pressures and demands of her acting career and longing for some peace and quiet and well as a much simpler life.
But dealing with her nosy, omnipresent neighbors is a different matter. No sooner does her agent depart than the doorbell rings, bringing in the local, thoroughly gossiping two-person Welcoming Committee of Cora Gump (Amanda Conlon) and Reba (Ann Ryerson), neighbors looking for more good stories to share now that someone new has invaded their space. As the story unfolds, we learn that Cora has a drinking problem, with Conlon comically attempting to mask it with good manners until the amount of scotch consumed overwhelms her better judgment and loosens her lips a bit too much. And Reba claims to not be able to talk about a lot that goes on in the town, which of course is a perfect lead in for Cora to take over and spill the beans.
Two of the neighbors Myra is warned about turn up as soon as her dictating sessions begin. First there is the local bearded, overall-wearing “handyman” Piney (the always entertaining character actor Jeffrey Winner) who seems to be able to provide just about anything for “two-bits.” A short while later, in rushes the local “gypsy hippie” Willa Mae Wilcox (Leda Siskind) who judges people first by their astrological sign. Of course, it seems since Reba is a Scorpio there is no way the two women could be friends, let alone ever be in the same room together. Hilarity ensues when they are!
In an attempt to shoo them away and gain some privacy so she can continue dictating, Myra invents a mad, homicidal sister, one who is kept locked in an upstairs room but who occasionally escapes long enough to scare off uninvited visitors. You can tell Angelina is having the time of her life running around as the two sisters, adding in hysterical physicality as she charges up and down the stairs as her crazy “Sister Sadie.” What better stage could an actress want? And what better material for her autobiography which is getting juicier by the minute?
The ruse works well, at first, but complications result when Piney conceives an affection for Sadie (really Myra in a fright wig) and shows up clean-shaven wearing a suit to “court” the woman he believes will be able to comprehend his own strange ways and be his perfect wife. But then some of the more officious ladies decide it is their Christian duty to save the poor demented Sadie’s soul. Perhaps Willa Mae needs to hold a séance?
In desperation, Myra announces that her imaginary sibling has suddenly gone off to Boston, which sets the locals to wondering if Sadie is the mysterious murderer they have read about who has been able to allude the law.
So of course, they summon the Sheriff (William Joseph Hill) to investigate. But will he believe Myra made up the story or that she is just trying to protect her sister from jail time? And how will the lovelorn Piney deal with the disappearance of his lady love?
I’m not telling – but this silly, three-door farce will keeping you laughing from start to finish as the brilliant cast of characters run every which way, think nothing of coming in if a door is unlocked, or always seem to be doing their best to create even more interesting tales to tell their neighbors over tea – or perhaps just a bit more scotch! Just goes to show you there’s a lot of fun and games going on behind the scenes in rustic Beaver Haven, Vermont.
Shari Barrett for Broadway World Los Angeles
June 5, 2019