A Tomato Can't Grow In The Bronx Wednesday, 06 October 2010 By Kenn Gold
A Tomato Can’t Grow in the Bronx is a multi-generational family story set in the mid-60’s in the Bronx, NY, NY, which recently was presented at The Producers Club in New York.. The title is a take on the 1960’s novel, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and the major story line involves a young Jewish family wanting to get away from the violence and racial strife in the city by moving to the suburbs on Long Island, and the need for both approval and financial support from the elder generation to make this American dream happen. The play was presented by Bravo Productions, Gary Morgenstein, and The Guild of Italian American Actors. Morgenstein, the playwright, is a master at documenting the subtle family dynamics and relationships between various characters in this, as well as his other works. It is impressive though, the depth of character, and back story that is able to be delivered in a constrained time (the play runs just over 1 hour and 40 minutes).
In rapid succession, yet in a way that doesn’t feel rushed we learn very pertinent details about each member of the family, and come to understand their dreams, fears and motivations. The grandfather has been some what of a thug when it comes to dealing with those in the neighborhood who would try to push the Jews out, and has been a bit callous towards his wife. Though he softens instantly for his daughter, and has a deep though hidden pride in his grandson.
The grandmother hides her own hurts in comedy and snarkiness, while making up for her lost relationship with her daughter through an unyielding dedication to her grandson, while sharing a special relationship with her son in law.
The parents in this family have had their tough times as well. The mother suffered a nervous breakdown at some point in the past, and the rest of the family considers her somewhat fragile. But in the end, she pulls it together, and finds the strength to move them all forward towards their goals. The father is loving, and dedicated to both his wife and son, but perhaps ascribes to larger dreams in life that he doesn’t have the fortitude to fulfill on his own, and is thus stuck living next to his in-laws, and working a sub-standard job for his father in law, while secretly wanting to get out to do what is best for his family. His dreams and desires come out in part in his attempts to grow tomatoes in a bucket on his stoop, and the withered and dead plant is almost a silent co-character in the story.
And finally, the son of the family is both bright and articulate, constantly announcing his family’s activities with a wooden microphone that he made in shop class in preparation to one day become a radio sports announcer. The only non-family member in the play is the realtor who plays an important part in bringing things to fruition in the 2nd act.
Back Row: Troy Dane, Gary Morgenstein, Carlo Fiorletta, Donna Castellano, Bruce Levy Front Row: Jessica Reness Russell, Alyson Linefsky, Simcha BorensteinAll of the actors in the play showed incredible depth of emotion in bringing their characters to life, and it was amazing to see both the public face that they put on for the other family members, with hints of their real fears and motivations worked in at surprising times in the play. Bruce Levy (Harry Simms) brings grandpa to life in a very believable way, and it is obvious that he is well schooled in his art. He brilliantly plays Harry as both a rough cad, and a loving parent and grandparent who would do anything to keep his family around him, including sabotaging the dreams of his children without realizing it.
Donna Castellano (Gladys Simms) as grandmother is perhaps the star of this production, and the type of character that you immediately love, and come quickly to understand. A particular monologue in the 2nd act, as she is explaining her motivations to her daughter is wonderfully written and executed, and you leave that scene understanding her pain and all that drives her now. Simcha Borenstein (Sammy Abrams) wonderfully conveys the love of a father and husband. He is dedicated to his wife and son, and dreams big for his family, but cows to his father in law. You are left with no doubt about what drives the character, and Simcha plays it well as the dreamer and the family provider. Alyson Linefsky (Eleanor Abrams) exhibits dramatic outbursts that are wonderful as well, and portray particular depth of emotion as she explains what drove her to her mental illness. She masterfully catches the audience off guard with some of her outbursts that pour emotion on to the stage and force them to bond with her character.
Perhaps a bit miscast in his role, Troy Dane is excellent as Elliot Abrams, the 15 year old grandson, and he delivers a particularly entertaining performance. And the potential mis-casting comes in to play because Elliot must be intended to be a scrawny 15 year old Jewish kid who has few friends, and no love life (though he pines for a Spanish girl in his class), whereas Troy comes off as full of self confidence, and has somewhat more of a weight lifter’s build, and is the kind of actor who you expect to be playing the lead in an action/drama. The fact that he is able to take that down a notch and come off at times, as believable as the teen in this family is a testament to his budding abilities.
Finally, while somewhat distanced from the rest of the cast, (Jessica Renee Russell (Madeline Kramer) plays a realtor who is handling the transaction of the potential house, and conspiring with Elliot to move the family towards a decision. The character is wonderfully comedic and fun, and there is no doubt that Jessica will be a name that people will be hearing more of in the future.
Director Carol Fiorletta moves the cast masterfully, and runs the lights and sound in this small house production. His stories of the industry are fascinating, and this is a name to watch, as he makes his mark on the New York theatre scene.
This play had a very limited run in a small house, and that is a shame. It certainly deserves to move up the line to a longer run, larger venue, and it will be deeply surprising if that doesn’t happen. Morgenstein has done it again, delivering the goods in a believable way, and brilliantly expanding the audiences understanding of some very complex people in whom the audience is able to see as reflections from their own life.
This is a play that will be back in another form, and it’s just a matter of time till that happens.
Editor’s Note: On the surface and at first glance, it might seem that an objective review of a play written by a friend and radio show co-host is impossible, especially given that this web site has been promoting it for the last several months. But that is before you dig into the origins of that seemingly conflicting cloud. Just about a year ago, in one of my duties as editor of MediaBlvd, I ran into a publicist for SyFy at a press event. We traded cards over dinner, and he mentioned that he had written a couple of books, one recently, and that I should read it. As I was leaving for the airport, Gary Morgenstein handed me a yellow sticky note with his name, and the title of a book, “Jesse’s Girl” and said he’d love to talk about it on one of our radio shows. That was in early October, and I ordered the book as a courtesy, and it sat on my shelf until thanksgiving weekend, when I picked it up to avoid dealing with the in-laws. The book grabbed me, and didn’t let go for about 8 hours, even with a screaming wife wondering why I wasn’t spending time with her family on Thanksgiving. Needless to say, and since this isn’t a review of that book, I came to a rapid realization that Gary Morgenstein is a brilliant writer, and has an amazing knack for injecting incredible and relatable family elements into a work that is very different from my own life. Fast forward almost a year ahead of time, and I find myself travelling 1700 miles from Colorado to New York to see an Off-off Broadway play, written by an author who I consider an artistic genius, and who had become a friend at first because of his writing ability and my fascination with his work, but then later as more. This is all in interest of full disclosure.. You would not expect a review of an Off-off Broadway play by a website based in Colorado that mainly covers science fiction related television shows, but it seemed like a worthy investment of time and effort to see something near and dear to someone whose writing I respect. [ Back ]