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REVIEWS

A Bad Year For Tomatoes, by John Patrick
Gypsy Resurrects Dated Material
Friday, April 17, 2009
4.0
John Patrick’s “A Bad Year for Tomatoes” is a light-hearted comedy centered around middle aged television star Myra Marlow, who has recently decided to give up her acting career, move to a quiet east coast town, and write an autobiography. Though all Myra craves is peace and quiet- her nosy and bizarre neighbors quickly turn the peaceful haven into an untenable nightmare. The play was written to be a simple, over-the-top comedy- an under two hour respite from the tribulations of the real world- and never aspires to be more than that.

The play, which opened on Thursday at the Cumming Playhouse in Cumming, Ga, is offered by Gypsy Theater Company. Gypsy is a much needed fresh face on the Peach State theater scene that has seen it’s share of theater closings and box office bombs. Managed by Danielle Bugay, also of Cumming, Gypsy clearly brings a level of professionalism not often seen in community theater, and offers a taste of genuine theater going experience to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity. Though the style of humor in “Tomatoes” is clearly dated , it’s an overall fun experience and the effort put into this production will surely set Gypsy’s star on the rise.

The charisma and inner wit of the cast elevates the play beyond its’ merit. Danielle Bugay plays the lead with a savvy that belies her relative lack of experience. With frequent time on stage alone, and long appearances in every scene, the role of Marlow requires shoulders broad enough to carry an entire play- and Bugay deftly pulls it off. She brings the necessary combination of charm, sarcastic wit, and unique zaniness to the stage. Bugay makes Myra real for the audience- we collapse with her as her dream crumbles- and rise triumphantly with her each time she rolls with the hilarious punches Beaver Haven throws out. Though certainly talented in this genre, it will be nice to see Bugay stretch her legs in a more challenging- and perhaps more contemporary role.

Amanda Libbey plays Reba Harper- the rock steady component of the hilarious, two woman Beaver Haven welcoming committee. Libbey is fantastic as the straight laced, bible thumping Harper, reacting with a delightful holier than thou bent as the story unfolds before her delicate view of the world. Libbey brings an intelligent sensibility to the slightly daft, irrational Harper, and in doing so convinces anyone who sees this show that she could play any character, from any time period, in any show from here to Broadway.

Debbie Hamm pumps so much sizzling sass into Cora Gump you actually think for a moment that the reluctant Myra Marlow actually likes having her around…just a little bit. Hamm inflates Gump into an amusing drama queen, and plays her not so closeted drinking habit to a pinpoint. Hamm was a fantastic addition to the integral duo of nosy neighbors- energizes the stage- and it will surprise no one to see her taking on other roles in the near future.

The comedic sparkplug of the play is occult witch Willa May Wilcox. The amazing actor behind the fiendishly fun Wilcox is Jan Rink- who skillfully walks the line between worldly eccentricity and back woods simplicity. With a brilliance and grace that breathes life into an occasionally deflated audience, Rink gives Wilcox her own wild card slant, and we quickly learn to be prepared for whatever curveball she may unleash next. Whether it was the intention of the playwright or not- Rink makes Wilcox a character demanding of her own play. Whether that ever happens is unsure, but Rink getting a lead role soon is a certainty.

Over the top laughs come courtesy of Piney- a woodsman and all-around redneck entrepreneur, who makes himself as cozy in Marla’s cabin as he would be in his own home. Played perfectly by John Spencer, Piney is non-stop laughs- leaving a trail of giggles even after leaving the stage. Spencer makes Piney that anomaly many of us have in our own lives- the person you want so badly to go, but that you miss when he’s gone.

The cast is rounded out with John Stutte playing Myra’s Hollywood agent Tom Lamont. Stutte exudes an L.A. slickness that actually makes you think his hilariously accurate leisure suits could come back into style. Lamont is one of the smaller roles in the play, but Stutte makes his mark with it none the less, expertly pulling off one of the more difficult jobs in acting- playing the normal, voice of reason while surrounded by zany, off the wall characters. Stutte crafts Lamont into a savvy, eager businessman, but one with such a soft, caring underbelly you can’t help hoping Myra takes him up on one of his many marriage proposals. Bigger roles are no doubt on the horizon for this actor as well.

The Director- an intense fellow who insists on going only by the name Mercury, captains this sturdy ship- and he dexterously inflates this flat comedy into a worthwhile evening. With a knack for making the small stage look ready for Broadway- Mercury crafts a set, and a story, well worth the price of admission. The pace of the work is near perfect- critical in a farcical comedy of this type. Mercury uses beautiful scenery, razor sharp character development, and full immersion to transport us to another place. For a little more then an hour and a half of the theater goers life- Beaver Haven is a very real place. A very real, very funny place.

This powerful, talented cast, along with their determined Director Mercury, take what amounts to mediocre material on paper- and transform it into an extremely enjoyable show. Tomatoes was likely more funny if it were seen when it was written, which was 1972- but the time warp of costume and scenery is half the fun now. The reality is- the material is out-of-touch and stale- and undoubtedly played better a few decades ago, but the cast rescues the play from itself, putting a fresh comic spin on an old idea. A Bad Year for Tomatoes is a rare gem in the vast wasteland that community theater can sometimes be. Well paced, sharp humor winding to a peak of unraveled hilarity is what this play should be- and ultimately what Gypsy provides. Rarely would community theater get such high praise- but this work, going largely unseen in little Cumming, Georgia, is truly a must see for locals and out-of-towners alike.

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