"Tough Nut" Wows Them at UMass Amherst Family Business Center
by Shel Horowitz
For the third time, the Family Business Center was treated to a theatrical evening with a play written by Center director Ira Bryck. His latest play, "A Tough Nut to Crack," has only two actors and one set. This format not only makes it easier to stage, but also allows considerable depth of interaction between Will Rosenbloom and his son Bud.
The play, unashamedly autobiographical, chronicles these two men as they work together in a Freeport, Long Island clothing store from 1975 to 1993. Will bought out a cousin, and Bud started sweeping floors at age 5.
Bryck worked in his own father's clothing store in Freeport for that same stretch of time, and there are many parallels.
Like many of his generation, introspective Bud, played by Craig Duda, is constantly soul-searching. He is never sure that he was cut out to be a retailer, worries about his sales skills, and always wonders whether he should have taken a different career path.
Will has no such qualms. He focuses on the bottom line, and his sales skills are so finely honed that when a customer comes in for a tie to match a suit purchased elsewhere, he upgrades the sale to include a whole new suit. And when a different customer comes in, Will steers the sale toward an oversized "loser" item he can't get rid of; he even secretly removes a half-price tag. Bud, watching, wonders, "Did you see that? What he did there? How does he sleep at night?"
Yet, allowing that the store is where he is, Bud also struggles under Will's dominating hand. If he's going to work at Rosenbloom's, he wants the store to reflect his own vision. His father is the old-style, authoritarian entrepreneur who issues commands to his employees, not requests - who reprimands his creditors on the phone - who cares nothing for the customer's financial condition, only for how much of that financial condition he can transfer into the cash register.
Here's how their styles play out with shoplifters.
Will: "Welcome to Rosenblooms! I can't help notice what good taste in clothing you have. No, I'm not talking about your down jacket, I'm talking about the triple stitched Swedish Knit boys slacks, available in forest green and cranberry, that you just stuffed up inside the aforementioned down jacket. (pause) Am I calling you a thief? (getting angrier) Why I guess I am! Do you know how hard I have to work to earn the money to buy those pants, hoping to sell them for a few bucks profit before some gonif (thief) like you comes in here to rip me off? How am I supposed to pay all these people if you just come in here and steal? Why don't you just kill us all? (pause) Well, you should be sorry! I remember you when your mother bought you your first underpants! (mimes pulling pants away) Yes, we can make this right - will that be cash or charge? (pause) Donna, please take cash for this fine gentleman (to customer) and remember.. 'for every day or that special day, one store fits all… Rosenblooms!'"
Bud's encounter with a shoplifter is offstage. Like his father, he shames the customer into making the purchase, with cash. As he tells his father about it…
Will: That stuff is really the beauty part of this business. I couldn't have done it better myself.
Bud: It's funny, but while it was happening I kept thinking - in the back of my mind, "what would Dad do?"
Will: So you did what you thought I'd do? I'm so proud.
Bud: No, I'm so proud - because I think I did it my way. Not the opposite of your way, but in my own personal style…taking nothing away from you, I was really pleased to have a personal style. It took awhile to realize, working for my father as I do.
At the end of the play, Will is finally ready to sell out. But Freeport is a dying town, and Bud no longer wants to buy. They decide, together, to close the business. In the last words of the play, Bud tells the employees, "And then you'll all take a 60 minute lunch - make it a 90 minute lunch hour. I'm treating everyone to big fat pastrami sandwiches for Christmas - and then…I have something to say."