The play is called “A Bad Year for Tomatoes”, which is a whimsical name for a play that has almost nothing to do with tomatoes. I assume the playwright, John Patrick, was attempting to let you know that the play is supposed to be funny — if you are a fan of ridiculous English-style farces. But “Noises Off” it isn’t.
The setting is the living room of a small farmhouse in Beaver Haven, Vermont, which a once-celebrated movie star has rented in order to sit quietly and write her autobiography. By her own estimation she is “past puberty, but not into senility”.
Her professional name is Myra Marlowe, but in Beaver Haven she reverts to the name she was born with: Myrtle Marigold. (In this production she is played by actress Diana Angelina.)
But peace and quiet is never to be. As soon as she settles in she is bombarded by crazy neighbors, beginning with Cora Gump (Amanda Conlon) and Reba Harper (Ann Ryerson) who introduce themselves as the Hospitality Committee.
As they see their responsibilities, “hospitality” involves apprising the newcomer of the particular quirks of each of the nearby neighbors. Prominently featured in this rundown is Willa Mae Wilcox (Leda Siskind), who is a “mystic” who reads palms, sees what’s coming, and warns everyone about everything in a frantic, arm-waving screech.
Also featured is a man named Piney (Jeffrey Winner), who chops wood and carries a hatchet with him at all times. He is also equipped with a long Brillo-like beard and a tendency to barge in on people and engage them in weird conversations.
All this, as might be anticipated, is just too much “hospitality” for Myra, and so she invents a crazy, dangerous sister locked up in an upstairs bedroom and records a menacing tape in which her “sister” threatens to kill any stranger in the house. Which affords Myra the opportunity to disguise herself by donning a checkered apron over her colorful dress and a bright yellow pigtailed wig and to rush downstairs wielding a vicious pair of scissors and screaming like a banshee.
A single funny interruption is provided by Myra’s agent, Tom Lamont (David Datz) who arrives to tell Myra that CBS would like her to star in a new TV series in which she would play a blind detective. When she learns that the series is to be sponsored by Hallmark she suggests that Hallmark could create a whole new series of greeting cards—in Braille.
Larry Eisenberg, Co-Artistic Director of the Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, directed this production and, as an actor, recently starred in “Tuesdays with Morrie” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse.
Unfortunately, “A Bad Year for Tomatoes” is also a bad year for this play. Which is surprising, since its author, John Patrick, is well respected for having written such winning scripts as “The Teahouse of the August Moon”, “Three Coins in the Fountain”, “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”, and “The Hasty Heart”.
“A Bad Year for Tomatoes” can be seen Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2 through June 16 at Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive, in Beverly Hills. Call (310) 364-0535 for tickets or online at www.theatre40.org.