IF YOU GO
What: Cornball comedy about a TV actress who moves to a small town and tries to avoid her nosy neighbors
When: 7 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 15
Where: Rose History Auditorium at the Marco Island Historical Museum, 180 South Heathwood Dr., Marco Island
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
MARCO ISLAND — The Island Players, Marco Island's newest theatrical group, kicked off their season in winning fashion Friday night. Wonderful comedic performances from a solid ensemble lifted the pedestrian jokes in "A Bad Year for Tomatoes" into tasty culinary - and stage - delights.
The group, founded by Pat Berry, Pattie Ziesig and Jean Ann Rowles, formed over the summer. The Island Players intend to produce accessible - and fun - community theatre. Their next production, for instance, is the kid-friendly (and kid-filled) "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." "A Bad Year for Tomatoes" serves as a launching pad - and a gauge for where the group might go in the future.
"A Bad Year for Tomatoes," written by John Patrick, tells the story of television actress Myra Marlowe. Myra wants peace and quiet to write her autobiography; she leaves Hollywood for the cosy confines of small-town Beaver Haven - and its nosy neighbors. Complications ensue.
Neither a farce nor a comedy of words though, "Tomatoes," written in 1973, hasn't aged well. The gossipy neighbor stereotypes seem about as clever as a bad 1970s sitcom - and the humor can be a touch crude. For instance, one recurring joke involves "the Becker boy" molesting either a duck, chicken or turkey. Manure figures into the dialogue - repeatedly. There's nothing deep about the show - it just strings together various "wacky-sitcom neighbor" scenes for two hours. Still, fun to watch.
Co-directed by Berry and Ziesig, with an assist from soap star Walt Willey, the cast takes the material and makes it not just watchable, but better somehow. "Tomatoes" isn't just a story about Myra Marlowe wanting a bit of privacy, it is a story about everyone who's been plagued by the ringing doorbell - and too-friendly neighbors with the best of intentions. And the Island Players have the best of intentions.
Mai Puccio leads the pack as put-upon Myra Marlowe. Even though the silly neighbors have all the best comedic lines, Puccio elevates the unimaginative words she's given to a living, breathing character. She also gets to have a little fun when the character "invents" a crazy sister of her own in order to scare the neighbors. The switch from buttoned-down Myra to crazy Sadie (complete with bloomers and wig) is quite a thing to see. Puccio also shares some nice chemistry with Scott Lilly, who plays Myra's agent, Tom.
Joe Kelly perhaps steals the show as out-there woodsman Piney. Kelly, transformed from real-life businessman to backwoods hick - complete with overalls, battered hat, ax and boots, brings the night's best moments. Piney is a man of few words - and Kelly nails the character's deadpan timing and various facial expressions. Better yet, he chooses subtlety instead of over-acting the one-note joke - and lifts it by underplaying the humor. Watch for the second act "come sparkin'" scene, when Piney arrives all slicked up to woo the fictional crazy Sadie.
Judy Daye (Reba), Carol Clarke (Cora) and Betsy Perdichizzi (Willa Mae) make up a nattering troika of busybodies. Each gets a scene to shine - and each knocks it out of the park.
Debbie Pinizotto's costumes pop with color. While the clothes might not be small-town Vermont, they're eye-catching; the fashion parade also adds bounce to the neutral set. Daye gets an outrageous pair of flowered tights in one scene, while Puccio has a gorgeous royal purple top and a cute bright green gardening apron. Look also for Perdichizzi's character in perky jogging togs.
The chic (yet vacation cottage tacky) set, designed by Craig Jones and decorated by Kevin Moriarty, works amazingly well given that it has to be built from scratch inside the Rose History Auditorium at the Marco Island History Museum. I loved the realistic touches, like the paneling and siding - as well as the screen door slamming as each neighbor came or went.
It might have been "A Bad Year for Tomatoes," but it was a good night for the Island Players. Watch for Kelly's kooky wood chopper, the colorful costumes and the zippy chemistry between the actresses playing the neighborhood stickybeaks.
Please don't throw rotten tomatoes. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.