In Jacques Lamarre’s Raging Skillet, food transcends symbolism and the fourth wall. Delectables are actually distributed to the audience and become a variety of bookmarks in a delightfully funny piece based on the memoir (with-recipes) of real life Chef Rossi.
It’s not the first time food plays an integral part in a musical or play (Waitress, She Loves Me, Sweeney Todd). After all, it’s often a metaphor for an overarching theme in any given story.
Playwright LaMarre discovered The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi, a Memoir with Recipes at a book expo. Rossi was demonstrating her flair for cooking and wowing patrons with her colorful stories.
After seeing success with the food-as-memoir play, I Love, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, Lamarre was a natural to take Rossi’s bold, but endearing book to the stage as a tale of rebellion and search for identity.
Everyone can relate to some aspect of this absorbing story about a mother and lesbian daughter and the conflicts they go through in life.
Raging Skillet begins with Rossi (Dana Smith-Croll), as a rebellious caterer, celebrating the launch of her new book with a party. She enters a stage that also functions as a working kitchen designed by Michael Schweikardt.
She moves through smoke and fog, surrounded by speakers that set a tone of defiant musicality. The energetic club-like vibe is cemented with the upbeat, entertaining antics of DJ Skillit (George Salazar).
He’s a multi-threat; he pumps up the crowd in his roles as sidekick, assistant and other many-sided characters that flit through Rossi’s life.
When the ghost of Rossi’s deceased Orthodox Jewish mother (Marilyn Sokol) arrives unannounced, the self-professed “lesbian punk-rock caterer” finds herself coming to terms with the family and traditions that shaped her persona.
Yes, Skillet does offer its audiences the treats Rossi prepares as she reminisces about her first catering job, the day Elvis died and designing vagina-themed fare for an Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues) party.
Smith-Croll’s description of a four-foot fruited crotch is hysterical.
Aside from the pizza bagels, Manischevitz spritzers and chocolate covered bacon, the actors are the most delightful aspect of the play.
Smith-Croll’s Chef Rossi is as flavorful as her food, spirited and comedic in both her snark and buoyancy.
Sokol’s Mom gets the best one-liners. “Just like your name, you take a nice Jewish thing and make it Italian,” she tells Rossi about her decision to make pizza bagels.
Her snappy, heartfelt delivery has audiences simultaneously groaning and longing to embrace their own eccentric mothers.
Drama Desk nominee Salazar (The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical) reminds audiences why he is a theater wunderkind.
As DJ Skillit, he takes on characters without the aid of costume changes, demonstrating his versatility, charisma and flawless skill at physical comedy.
John Simpkins’ direction is intelligent and accessible. Audiences are one with the story from its first moment.
DJ Skillit and Rossi interact with them, move through the aisles, chatting, ad-libbing and distributing goodies in a truly unique experience catered to each crowd.
Julian Evans’ sound design is clever. Music is used creatively to segue between “chapters” of Rossi’s life.
Salazar should also be credited with his skillful distortion of voices and sound, formed in view of the audience with an iPad.
His embodiment of a DJ is truly all-encompassing!
John Lasiter’s lighting, coupled with Michael McKiernan’s projection design, is intelligent and creative. Images and icons are taken from The True Life Story of Chef Rossi and layered with eye-popping effect.
LaMarre’s flair for connecting with an audience truly pulls Raging Skillet together for a cohesive story, one that is never flat and consistently threatens to boil over with hilarity.
The show’s heart is always one beat away.
In a solemn moment, DJ Skillit is reminding Rossi that she would be much more boring without her mother’s influence. In another, mom is watching longingly as she leaves her daughter one final time.
Raging Skillet will stay with audiences far longer than any of the delicious calories consumed.
Raging Skillet is playing at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St, Hartford, CT 06103, through Aug. 27th. Check out the theater’s web site or call 860-527-7838.