As we arrive and assemble for A Tomato Can’t Grow in the Bronx, music of the late 60s drifts through the house. We hear portentous selections from the era, like the theme from the Broadway musical Hair (1967) and the song Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds (1965).
The action begins with the family converging to address the recent mugging of 15-year-old grandson Elliot Abrams (Spencer Neumann), who is nursing his bleeding forehead. The family kvetches about the cause of Elliot’s plight as they argue about his need for X-rays, avoiding Clay Avenue, patriarch and grandfather Harry Abrams’ (Jackie Kusher) contention that Jews “don’t run anymore,” and Grandma Gladys Simms’ (Andrea Bell Wolff) reference to the possibility of Elliot’s needing brain surgery as portrayed on the Ben Casey TV show.
We can’t help but grow close to the family. They are lovable, vulnerable, and delightfully set in a time and place where three vital generations interact, protect each other, and build cherished memories. There are plenty of jokes as Grandfather Simms oversees his coterie. Simms owns a paper-hanging business and always has money to solve the family’s problems; he doles out just enough business to keep his employee son-in-law, Sammy Abrams (Mike Roche), financially intact. We discover that Sammy’s wife, Eleanor Abrams (Holly O’Brien), is emotionally fragile and vigorously protected by her father. But Eleanor and Sammy have their own dreams. As they vainly attempt to cultivate tomatoes on their Bronx balcony, they speak dreamily of a home with a real garden.
Enter the delightful, ambitious real estate agent Madeline Kramer (Marina Chan). In Act II, we are transported to house hunting on Long Island and wonder how the family might reconcile the geographical and emotional challenges of uprooting an extended family if the grandparents don’t tag along. Is heat included in the monthly mortgage payment? What are those tailed creatures with acorns climbing in the trees? Where are the subways? How does one cut the grass?
A Tomato Can’t Grow in the Bronx is a heartfelt, sentimental look at old-world family dynamics that many of us saw weaken after the shifts from cities to suburbs accelerated in the late 60s. Special recognition is due to the inimitable Andrea Bell Wolff as grandmother Gladys Simms for her charm, warmth, humor, gravitas, and intensity when needed. And we all commiserated with the caring, patriarchal, complex, and sometimes flawed grandfather Harry Simms as portrayed by Jackie Kusher.
A Tomato Can’t Grow in the Bronx
Written by Gary Morgenstein
Directed by Bernice Garfield-Szita
Cast In order of appearance
Elliot Abrams, played by Spencer Neumann
Eleanor Abrams, played by Holly O’Brien*
Harry Simms, played by Jackie Kusher*
Gladys Simms, played by Andrea Bell Wolff*
Sammy Abrams, played by Mike Roche*
Madeline Kramer, played by Marina Chan
Director – Bernice Garfield-Szita
Playwright – Gary Morgenstein
Producer – Tomato Players, LLC
Co-Stage Managers – Erica Jasinski, Michele Coppolino
Assistant Stage Managers – Mateo Del Campo, Alma Del Campo
Set Design – Bernice Garfield-Szita, Bob Szita
Set Construction & Painting – Kirk Tibbett
Costume Design – Bernice Garfield-Szita
Lighting & Sound Design – Rocky Noel
Lighting & Sound Technician – Kristen Vanderlyn*
Publicity – Kristen Vanderlyn*, Betsyann Fiaillo
Scotti Rhodes www.scottirhodespublicity.com, Mafalda Cavanaugh
*Actors’ Equity Approved Showcase
Runtime two hours with one intermission.
The Chain Theater
312 West 36 Street
Floors 3 & 4
New York, NY 10018