[Note: For translation of the Yiddish words used in this review (in bold), go to The Yiddish Handbook.]
Oy vey! What mishegas is cooking up at Theaterworks where Jacque Lamarre’s newest creation, Raging Skillet, has settled in through August 27th. The show is equal parts cooking demonstration and combative mother-daughter relationship, with a heaping tablespoon of Jewish guilt.
The play, based on the true story of Rossi, a self-proclaimed lesbian, punk rocking chef, opens with the chef and partner in crime DJ Skillit, about to begin a book signing event and cooking demonstration in her kitchen. Before she can start her mother strolls onto the stage to kvell over her daughter’s success. The chutzpah of mom! The problem is mom has been deceased for quite a few years. Still, she is now part of the setting and for the next 90 minutes the late Mrs. Ross and her daughter dredge up old wounds, bicker, and relive the good times and bad. The two kvetch, they plotz as the third member of the triumvirate, DJ Skillet, comforts, humors, and obliges his boss.
Playwright Jacuqes Lamarre mixes a number of themes and storylines together without settling on one constant direction. It is an inconsistent concoction with the constant interweaving of the chef’s backstory and her stormy relationship with her mother. The concept he has presented is fun and interactive, sometimes a bit schmaltzy. Several appetizers and drinks—anyone for a Manischewitz Spritzer--is prepared and served to the audience throughout the production. But the essence of the show, the dramatic arc of Chef Rossi’s life, is only somewhat realized. There is an over reliance on Yiddish words and terms that will leave some audience members not getting the jokes.
The three performers work well together, effectively playing off each other’s strengths and rhythms. Dana Smith-Croll gives Rossi an irascible, fiery spirit, which could have been even edgier. The actress is at ease playing with and connecting with the audience. George Salazar as DJ Skillet comes across as a believable sidekick who is more technician—mixing music with his handheld device and pumping up the audience with his ever-present wireless microphone. Marilyn Sokol is wonderful as Mrs. Ross, the over wrought mother and yenta. She can be a bit over-the-top with her portrayal, but adds humor leavened with sentiment.
Director John Simpkins relies on a lot of shtick to keep the performers busy and the play moving forward. They hustle and bustle around Michael Schweikardt’s finely detailed kitchen set. The food preparation and serving works well, but there is a lot of lag time when the characters break the fourth wall and pass out the treats. This disrupts the tempo of the production and requires a constant restart of the play’s momentum. Working with Sound Designer Julian Evans and Lighting Designer John Lasiter, Simpkins has Integrated snippets of loud, contemporary music and a variety of lighting to pump up the crowd and showcase the fitfulness and punk roots of the main character.
Raging Skillet, playing at Theaterworks in Hartford through August 27th. For information, go to http://www.theaterworkshartford.org/ or call 860.527.7838.