The tomato stars in this Shakespearean-esque 16th century Italian countryside drama, a highbrow portrait of human nature driven by lowbrow sensibilities. Crass humor, revolting gore, and overpowering loneliness each play a supporting role in this age-old love story between Jew and gentile.
Star-crossed lovers Mari and Davido, two farmhands united by the force of their passion— hers for olives; his for the tomatoes— are thwarted by a triumvirate of obstacles: Davido’s impending arranged marriage, their respective religions, and not least of all, Mari’s greedy stepfather, Giuseppe, who lusts after Davido’s grandfather’s land and his halfwit henchman, Bertolli.
The couple’s path to public acceptance parallels that of the tomato, a strange new fruit Davido’s grandfather acquired from his travels with Christopher Columbus and brought back to Italy. The tomato, an omnipresent character, is embraced as delicious, shunned as evil, or received with cautious curiosity. It’s an apt metaphor for medieval, and modern, religious commingling.
Schell’s narrative is beautifully written and heart-wrenchingly delivered. The tale is as participatory as Shakespearean theatre, with grimace-inducing vulgarity coupled with an absurdist sense of humor that inspires outloud laughter. Most amusing is Schell’s flawless execution of the village dialogue, a crude tongue spoken only in verse. It’s infectious, and here’s proof: Graphic and gory at times, this story is told with hilarious rhymes.