Toma­to Rhap­sody: A Fable of Love, Lust & For­bid­den Fruit

Adam Schell
  • Review
By – October 27, 2011

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.

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