Funny, poignant ‘Raging Skillet’ is tasty theater

Kathleen Sitzer, Sarajane Alverson and Erin Renee Roberts star in ‘Raging Skillet’ at The New Jewish Theatre, through Oct. 21. Photo: Eric Woolsey

BY ELLEN FUTTERMAN, EDITOR

Any theater production that serves audiences Snickers and Potato Chip Casserole scores points with me. “Raging Skillet,” which opens the 22nd season of the New Jewish Theatre, is one of those productions.

The play also serves up plenty of raucous laughs as it tells the real-life story of self-described “Jewish, lesbian, punk-rock caterer” Chef Rossi. 

Apparently, playwright Jacques Lamarre read Rossi’s memoir, “The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi,” and adapted it to a three-character, 85-minute (no intermission) play. We should be glad he did.

We first meet Rossi (Sarajane Alverson) on the eve of her book launch. She’s invited us into her kitchen (whimsically designed by Dunsi Dai) to hear how she morphed from a wild child into an even wilder caterer while she prepares a few favorite recipes. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Just as she’s getting started, in walks her mother (former NJT artistic director Kathleen Sitzer) who, as it so happens, has been dead since 1992. Incredulous, Rossi asks what the heck she is doing there. 

“Jewish mothers never die,” Mom responds as she settles her tush onto a kitchen stool to listen — but mostly to comment on — her daughter’s misadventures.

The play unfolds as chapters, with music that reflects the soundtrack of Rossi’s youth. The tunes are supplied by sous chef/sidekick DJ Skillit (Erin Renee Roberts), who also portrays various ancillary characters, including Rossi’s dead father, her first girlfriend, a Russian gangster and Rosie Perez.

Like a preponderance of Jewish mothers and their daughters, Rossi and Mom have some — OK, many, many — unresolved issues. Mom doesn’t appreciate Rossi’s foul mouth (consider yourself warned) and isn’t exactly thrilled she is a lesbian. And then there is the bacon that Rossi dips in chocolate. 

Trayf,” Mom exclaims. “When you cook bacon your ancestors weep.”

Rossi, too, has her share of beefs with opinionated Mom, ranging from her penchant to dish out “weapons-grade level guilt”  to her addiction to discounts (she’s still carrying around Wendy’s coupons from the year she died) to sending Rossi, as a rebellious teen, to live with a Hasidic rabbi who “took in feral Jewish children.”

Part narrative, part stand-up, part shtick, part interactive, part therapy session, the action moves along nicely in the deft hands of director Lee Anne Mathews. She gives the actors free reign to have fun, too, and all three are thoroughly engaging.

Alverson imbues Rossi with the right amounts of unbridled grit, bravado and vulnerability so that when the proceedings suddenly turn poignant at the end — think Catskills meet “Terms of Endearment” — we believe her epiphany. 

Sitzer balances her role perfectly, adding just enough feistiness, likability and pure heart to avoid turning Mom into a complete stereotype, though, let’s be honest, there is something familiar and weirdly endearing about the quintessential Jewish mother, and Sitzer embodies her so well. 

And Roberts, who moves around the stage at breakneck speed, not only brings infectious energy to the production but also sass and humor.

“Raging Skillet” is lighthearted and entertaining, filled with funny lines, great Yiddish flourishes, memorable characters, mother-daughter angst and an interesting story. All of this, and snacks, make for a yummy evening.