TheaterWorks is currently presenting the world premiere play, “Raging Skillet,” by Jacques Lamarre, based on the book by Chef Rossi. In real life, Chef Rossi is a bigtime caterer and chef, but the story about how she became famous is a little on the skimpy side. Featuring just a three member cast, the highlights of “Raging Skillet” are mostly the moments when the onstage character of Rossi (played by the appealing Dana Smith-Croll) offers food to the audience during the show.
Starting with a shout-out by Rossi’s assistant, D. J. Skillit (the versatile George Salazar), “Raging Skillet” features a lot of loud music, punctuated by scenes that revel perhaps too much in Jewish stereotypes and Yiddish sayings. Also somewhat offensive is the overabundance of swear words and a great deal of explicit talk about sexuality. “Raging Skillet” is mostly for the undiscriminating theatregoer who doesn’t mind 90 minutes of mildly interesting details of how Rossi shot to fame in her field of expertise.
The set-up of this show is a series of brief monologues where Dana Smith-Croll, as Rossi, talks directly to the audience about the various highlights of her career, followed by those treasured times when the audience is offered a sampling of Rossi’s best dishes. It should be stated that Rossi is haunted by the ghost of her dead mother, in the form of veteran comedienne Marilyn Sokol. This actress has had an extensive career of playing Broadway, television, and various other mediums and should be a familiar face to most of the people seeing this show. The aforementioned use of Jewish humor and Yiddish words mostly comes from Sokol and she is a real pro at putting over a joke. The unfortunate thing in “Raging Skillet,” however, is that often she is better than the material she is asked to deliver.
As D. J. Skillit, George Salazar is asked to rev up the audience with rock tunes, borderline inappropriate language, and he is the one who actually brings the trays out into audience to pass around some of Rossi’s tastiest creations. (I should state that, at the performance I attended, where I was seated, I was unable to really get close enough to this actor to sample the food during the show. But those lucky people in the first few rows and on the aisles seemed to love everything that Salazar had to offer).
Of course, though, the real story in “Raging Skillet” is Rossi, herself, and TheaterWorks could not have found a more ingratiating actress than Dana Smith-Croll to play this role. She manages to make most of the stories of Rossi’s climb up the proverbial ladder as a chef to be fairly intriguing. Truth to tell, though, there is only so much that she and the director of the show, John Simpkins, can be do with a play this lightweight. Smith-Croll is a real trouper and she is certainly talented, but she doesn’t have very much to work with.
Intriguingly, the set design by Michael Schweikardt, which is of a kitchen (and, yes, there is a great deal of cooking done during the show), features a back wall made up of various stereo speakers of all different sizes. Blair Gulledge’s costumes are appropriate to the characters (though I wish that Marilyn Sokol could have been given a dress that was a bit more attractive). John Lasiter’s lighting at times makes you feel like you are at a rock concert and that feeling is mirrored by Julian Evans’ high-powered sound design.
How much one will likely to be able to enjoy “Raging Skillet” will rely on one’s tolerance of an excess of Yiddish jokes, detailed language of an intimate and sexual nature, and the use of loud music to provide continuity. Of course, though, there is the food that gets passed around and, if you stay after the show, you can go onstage to sample Rossi’s best creations (I enjoyed tomatoes and mozzarella on a toothpick). As stated, Dana Smith-Croll is a welcome presence to be telling the life story of Chef Rossi, and Marilyn Sokol can do no wrong, but TheaterWorks’ production of “Raging Skillet” is definitely on the thin side. Still, Rossi’s food is extremely tasty.
“Raging Skillet” continues performances at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through August 27, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.theaterworkshartford.org or call the box office at 860-527-7838.
Photo: (L-R): Dana Smith-Croll, George Salazar, and Marilyn Sokol
Photo by Lanny Nagler