Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Raging Skillet
TheaterWorks
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of At Home at the Zoo and Zander's review of Singin' in the Rain


Marilyn Sokol
Photo by Lanny Nagler
Raging Skillet, in world premiere production at Hartford's TheaterWorks through August 27th, shows promise. Penned by Jacques Lamarre, the comedy is based upon the book, "The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi." Rossi's memoir takes us through phases as she first became interested in cooking when she was 13 plus, her youth in New Jersey, move to Brooklyn and interface with Hassids, then her catering gig in Manhattan and so forth. A portion of the story is filled with hilarious moments and it is clearly designed to be experienced by an audience that welcomes participation from the get-go. John Simpkins, directing three actors, makes significant use of house aisles. Call this celebratory hands-on theater. While Simpkins and Lamarre have surely made adjustments during the rehearsal period, the show will probably develop further as the creative team notes the most successful sequences and others which could be revisited.

Dana Smith-Croll's performance as Rossi is a strong, thoughtful one. Rossi has been involved in rock music and she loves preparing food. Michael Schweikardt's set brings us directly to a working, filled kitchen and Rossi prepares numerous delicacies (including pizza bagels, a bacon dish, some sweets, drinks ...) which the actors bring to those watching who raise hands for the samples. Rossi is also a lesbian who is a feminist—and is Jewish.

She lost her mother more than 25 years ago but Mom (amazingly authentic Marilyn Sokol) is back to be on stage for most of the 90 minutes of Raging Skillet. Actor George Salazar, displaying versatility, comes on and off, periodically, as DJ Skillit (not skillet). DJ Skillit keeps the narrative flow moving.

Mom, though, is as pivotal to this presentation as is Rossi. Sokol garners laughs the moment she appears as a quintessential Jewish mother—with strong advisories, opinions, and commentaries regarding her daughter. She references her late husband, Marty, from time to time. Mostly, though, Mom is about two people: Rossi and herself. Mom says of her daughter, "She was every parent's nightmare." Sokol, a seasoned, professional actress, is consistently winning as Mom. She also has terrific comic timing, knows when and how to fully live and/or milk a triumphant mini-scene, and plays both to Rossi and the willing viewers watching their every move. To be succinct, Sokol's grasp of the material and her poise are enviable.

Mom saves coupons, whether they be for canned asparagus or fast-food Wendy's. "When I died, I had a Wendy's coupon. Maybe you can use it." Rossi points out that "It expired in 1992—shortly after you did." The banter between these two amplifies as the evening moves along but Raging Skillet is not consistently funny. In fact, it might be too much to ask that humor fly constantly high through an hour and a half theater piece. The chef is great at precisely seasoning food. This play, new to the boards, feels formative.

Quite close to the conclusion, Mom is in a wheelchair and she will not live for many more days. Suddenly, there's a poignancy to it all: Mother and daughter seem to share or bond. Perhaps significant foreshadowing would have enabled this turn to feel more credible. Raging Skillet, almost always, leans significantly toward lighter, more diverting modes.

Lamarre does a fine job of working from a memoir (which I have not read) and creating a stage play. His dialogue is true and believable. The play is filled with many highlights. Whether they can sustain throughout is debatable. This much is for certain: a full house of theatergoers, as the show opened for press, were wildly receptive.

Raging Skillet continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut, through August 27th, 2017. For tickets, visit www.theaterworkshartford.org or call (860) 527-7838.


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