BWW Review: RAGING SKILLET at JCC CenterStage Theatre
Continuing its 2019-2020 season, JCC's CenterStage theatre brings us Raging Skillet, a memoir-turned-play making its regional debut that that tells the story of a rule-breaker and boundary-pusher, a rebellious lesbian Jewish chef whose story is told through food and the ghost of her long-dead mother.
Raging Skillet, a play by Jacques Lamarre and based on "The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi", tells the story of Chef Rossi (Stephanie Roosa), a Jewish lesbian feminist chef who's promoting her book at a live cooking demonstration when she's interrupted by the ghost of her dead mother (Davida Bloom), who's quick to point out that "Jewish mothers never die". With the help of her sidekick DJ Skillet (Laron Dewberry) Rossi takes the audience down the winding roads that lead to her status as one of NYC's top chefs and caterers and, more importantly, highlight her rebellious and often-tumultuous relationship with her mother that helped define her life and career.
Raging Skillet is equal parts monologue and stand up comedy, telling the story of a rebel and rule breaker who was always destined to operate outside the box. Despite a few forgivable hiccups and line drops, Roosa does a commendable job at capturing Rossi's edginess and punk rock spirit, taking the audience through her childhood as a runaway, her early days in the sweaty, sexism-rampant kitchens of NYC, and her complicated relationship with her mother that helped shape the person, and chef, that she ultimately became.
Without a doubt, the highlight of JCC's Raging Skillet is Davida Bloom, a CenterStage regular who always masterfully develops her characters and brings the perfect energy to every production, be it the over-the-top Jewish mother of Skillet or her more quiet, measured character in last season's powerful Indecent. In Skillet, Bloom captures all the comedic zeal of a 1960's-1970's Jewish mother and housewife, while also creating a palpable emotional pull in the scenes of tension between herself and her daughter. She's surely one of Rochester's finest local actors, and a joy in every production she's a part of.
While it features fun characters and engaging stories, the premise of Raging Skillet quickly gets buried in its off-shoots and tangents, never fully settling into what is supposed to be its premise-an interactive cooking demonstration in front of a live audience-a fault more attributable to the playwright than the production. Lamarre leads the audience to believe early-on that the recipes demonstrated by Chef Rossi on stage will coincide with stories from her childhood and upbringing, and the play does rest on that framework at first, but the entrance of Rossi's mother quickly creates a level of chaos (albeit fun, often comically frenzied chaos) in the story that causes us to leave the cooking demonstration architecture altogether and, somewhat oddly, it never really feels like we return. To be clear, I don't think the cooking demonstration framework was ever narratively necessary in the first place. The dramatic tension of the story lies with Chef Rossi and her mother, and it would have made for a cleaner story if Lamarre focused on that tension without the clutter of the live cooking show premise.
Though it's not a perfect piece of theatre, Raging Skillet features quality acting performances (particularly from the always wonderful Davida Bloom), heartfelt dramatic tension, and comical uproar. It's playing at JCC's CenterStage Theatre until December 22nd; for tickets and more information, click here.