It’s a little unclear what The Raging Skillet wants to be—a bio-play, a cooking demonstration, a therapy session, or an infomercial—and the truth is, that lack of clarity simply doesn’t matter. This play about Chef Rossi (of WOMR’s Bite This) might have an identity crisis, but that doesn’t mean for a moment that the audience isn’t totally on board every single minute.
We begin with a launch party for—what else—The Raging Skillet, book version, which morphs into some actual cooking with samples for a few lucky audience members, which in turn morphs into a life narrative accompanied by a running commentary from the ghost of Rossi’s very Jewish mother.
Rossi is played by an absolutely believable Shanel Sparr—I think she was Rossi in another life–with excellent help from Michael Patrick Trimm as DJ Skillit. Don’t let his title confuse you: Skillit is sous-chef, musician, and a host of people from Rossi’s past who help tell her story; he’s constantly in motion, and just as constantly entertaining. Trimm is fantastic: he’s got a very physical presence combined with great comedic timing.
Sparr keeps her energy level amazingly high in view of being onstage, talking, moving, cooking, gesturing, and emoting for the whole play. Each new anecdote or story comes out fresh and compelling, and she doesn’t need the script to underline her identity as a lesbian punk-rocking Jewish self-taught chef: Sparr’s whole being projects all the above.
The show is stolen, however, by Kathryn Kates as Mom. For sure, she has amazingly good (if predictable) lines–from “I burned things because I cared,” to “when you cook bacon, your ancestors weep”—but this woman could make a shopping list entertaining. At turns feisty, defensive, strong, and even pathetic, she makes it clear where Rossi got her independence and confidence. I felt she could be my own Jewish mother (and I’m not even Jewish). Kates alone is worth the price of admission: she’s brilliant and absolutely owns the role… and the stage.
Sparr herself has some predictable—or at least obvious—lines, but that surprisingly doesn’t detract from their effectiveness. She speaks of a frightening gang of “feral Jewish teenagers” and references the family’s “little house on the shtetl;” the ghost’s arrival is heralded with “here comes the guilt express,” and she adds that her mother deployed “weapons-grade level guilt.” Amazingly, they’re all really funny.
And then there’s the food. Samples of Snickers-and-potato-chip casserole, chocolate-covered bacon, Manichewitz spritzers, and other Rossi signature dishes are passed out to the audience by the ever-attentive Skillit throughout the show, and while this is mildly distracting, it’s also maddening for audience members who aren’t offered the treats (especially, it has to be said, once they started frying bacon… onstage!). But it’s an appropriate part of the general zaniness of the play and the experience of the unexpected.
All in all, it’s a fun, lighthearted evening out. Go enjoy it for yourself!
The Raging Skillet: Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, August 22 – September 15, 2018, WHAT.org
(Photo courtesy of Michael and Sue Karchmer)