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Arts & Music

Couple's real life plays out in 'You Say Tomato' at Straz

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn have been married for more than a decade and, like most couples, they've had their ups and downs.

But instead of sinking money into years of therapy or law firms, the two comedians/actors wrote the 2009 book, "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!"

They began using elements from the book in live performances. Anecdotes about sex, no sex, parenthood, etc., hit funny bones, and they realized their story's universal appeal. Inspired, they wrote a stage adaptation of the same name, which opens Thursday at the Straz Center and stars Jonathan Van Dyke as Jeff and Gabrielle Mirabella as Annabelle.

"It's like a B-12 shot for relationships," Gurwitch said.

Gurwitch is a former co-host of TBS's "Dinner & a Movie" and a regular commentator on NPR. Kahn is an Emmy Award-winning writer for Fox's "The Ben Stiller Show" and appeared in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." They are both quick-witted and funny, Gurwitch being the sharp-tongued one and Kahn countering with rakish charm.

Not surprisingly, taking notes in a telephone interview with these two was a little like shooting a moving target. They talked over, under, above and around each other. One might wonder, "How are they still together?" But that's the point. Despite the marked differences, the complaining, the verbal volleys, Gurwitch and Kahn figured out how to make their marriage work using love, humor and, yes, distance.

They originally played themselves while performing bits from the book across the country. It was a bad idea that led to something better.

"We were so miserable to be on the road together, we had to adapt it as a play or we'd get a divorce. We figured out a way to send better versions of ourselves on the road to play us so we don't have to," Gurwitch said.

Gurwitch and Kahn agreed on one thing: It's both weird and wonderful watching your life being performed in public.

"At the end of the play I — this is so embarrassing — I get teary eyed. When they work it out and it's sweet and nice. It's emotional at the end," Kahn said.

He added, "I like the sex scene, where the character of Jeff is so exasperated by the process that he loses his mind."

"What's hardest to watch is about when our son was born. I get a little sentimental," said Gurwitch.

The couple's 12-year-old son, Ezra, was diagnosed with VACTERL association, a rare series of birth defects.

Through this mostly comedic, sometimes touching viewfinder, theatergoers can see a couple's uniquely corrective formula for staying together. But, true to form, each has a different idea of the play's overall message.

"I think what you need to find is someone whose crazy matches your crazy," said Gurwitch.

"Mine is simpler. I hope the audience leaves thinking I'm right," Kahn said.

'You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; through Oct. 14

Where: Straz Jr. Center, Jaeb Theater, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa

Tickets: $25 to $35.50; (813) 229-7827 or visit www.strazcenter.org

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