TheaterWorks, Hartford: Playwright Jacques Lamarre must have an appetite for memoirs featuring food. Several years ago his play “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” was his adaptation of a memoir of the same name and played the theater circuit for a good run. It featured a woman cooking a meal on stage and serving it to several audience members. Now he has adapted Chef Rossi’s memoir, “Raging Skillet.” Rossi is the owner and executive chef of “The Raging Skillet,” a well known catering company that prides itself in unique and tasty offerings. This play is based on Rossi’s book and also features a woman cooking on stage. The difference is the ethnicity of the cooks. In “Spaghetti,” the main character is Italian Catholic woman looking for a husband and in “Skillet,” the chef extraordinaire is a Jewish lesbian feminist.
There are two other characters in addition to the chef in the current production. The chef’s dead Jewish mother comes back from the grave to witness her daughter’s success and to criticize her daughter in a stereotypical Jewish mother guilt laying fashion. The chef’s mom is also a hound for coupons and a lousy cook. The awful food was the motivation for her rebellious daughter to learn how to cook. Rossi’s first big hit was a Snickers and Potato Chip Casserole.
Throughout the performance, the chef talks about some of the dishes she has made that led to her success. For instance, she describes her Snickers and Potato Chip Casserole, which she recreates on stage. “Once you mix, then scrape the goop into your buttered pan and smush till it’s all in.” She demonstrates and when the batch is made, she has her sous-chef pass some samples around to the audience. The actress playing Rossi also creates mini tomato and mozzarella skewers and pulled and barbecued chicken on a Ritz cracker. These are passed around to some audience members.
As she narrates the horrible, but hilarious scenes from the story of her rise to fame, her mother keeps interrupting. Rossi talks back and seems rather cruel to her mother at times. Her hard edge gets softer at the end, when she flips through the pages of her mother’s scrapbook and realizes what a special woman her mom really was.
The funniest parts of the show are when Rossi tells of her job as a day bartender; as an assistant to a chef where she had to dip 3,000 strawberries into chocolate, and finally as her own boss she caters an event celebrating the play “The Vagina Monologues.” Her vivid descriptions of her creations for this event could make a sailor blush.
By the way, large projections of chapter titles in Rossi’s books flank the stage and a large display of her books are on the edge of the stage and for sale immediately after the play. Throughout the show, you’ll hear loud pulsating rock music blasting through the theater. The music makes the show more exciting and emphasizes what a cool and rebellious young woman this chef was.
As for the language of the play, in every playbill, you will find “A Goy’s Glossary” of Jewish terms. And, if you thought you knew all the swear words that could be uttered, see this play and you might learn some new ones. In other words, this is a warning. If you object to foul language cross this show off your list.
Directed by John Simpkins, the cast performs well. Dana Smith-Croll plays Rossi and is definitely a sassy “b..ch.” Marilyn Sokol plays the stereotypical Jewish mom, and George Salazar plays DJ Skillit – assistant and sous-chef.
The effective and functional set designer is Michael Schweikardt. Blair Gulledge designed costumes, with John Lasiter and Julian Evans designers of lighting and sound respectively.
Knowing the fun-loving and witty playwright, I can honestly say that this is not his best work.
The play runs through Aug. 27. Box office: 860-527-7838.