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Sunday, October 14, 2018

RAGING SKILLET • New Jewish Theatre

Thorny mother and daughter relationships have been at the center of comedies and dramas for forever. But Jewish mothers? Oof, right? NJT opens its 22nd season with a comedy that’s salty and sweet, based on the life of Chef Rossi, the catering director, owner and executive chef of “The Raging Skillet” in NYC. A self-proclaimed punk-rock caterer, Chef Rossi’s memoir/recipe book was adapted into a play by Jacques Lamarre, recounting vivid childhood memories, unruly teenage years, and skirmishes with male chauvinism in bars and kitchens.

The play is set up as a book launch and cooking demo event for Chef Rossi (Sarajane Alverson). Along with her sidekick and sous chef, Skillit (Erin Renee Roberts) -- DJ’ing in a perch above the action, Rossi is joined and agitated by a spectral visit from her mother Harriet (Kathleen Sitzer), who died in 1992. The grave won’t stop Harriet from providing a running commentary on her unorthodox, lesbian daughter’s insurgency while singing the praises of double-triple coupons, canned vegetables and the microwave, all while Rossi tries to prepare little bites for the crowd. Yep, there’s food! Different sections of the audience get to snack on a sampling of Chef Rossi’s signature recipes that are handed out during the play. This slows down the action a bit, but who doesn’t appreciate a little nosh? It also lends an off-the-cuff quality to the show that Alverson and the rest of the cast roll with smoothly.

Mom (Kathleen Sitzer), Rossi (Sarajane Alverson)
and Skillit (Erin Renee Roberts).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Alverson stays in constant motion as Rossi, the “Head Bitch in Charge” -- moving and grooving to DJ Skillit’s interstitial bursts of classic rock tunes or ping-ponging between the cooking stations of Dunsai Dai’s handsomely-designed kitchen. Her irritation with her mother’s uninvited visit elicits a lot of laughs, and Alverson makes it all relatable. Sitzer is a riot as Harriet. She remains at the ready to bring her daughter back down to earth if Rossi gets too cocky, but her pride in her “Slovah” is full, and those Jewish-mother stereotypes are as familiar as they are stubbornly heart-tugging. Along with playing Skillit, Roberts fills in for a variety of roles -- to the men in Rossi’s life to her first girlfriend -- also a study in perpetual motion.

Rossi (Sarajane Alverson).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
The material from the real Chef Rossi’s memoir seems a little slender, but the performances drawn out by director Lee Anne Mathews keeps it engaging, and to witness Rossi and Harriet chew on the crustier aspects of their relationship yields its share of hilarious moments. Check it out -- it’s running until the 21st.


RAGING SKILLET

Written by Jacques Lamarre, based on the book by Chef Rossi
Directed by Lee Anne Mathews
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through October 21 | tickets: $42 - $45
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast
Rossi: Sarajane Alverson
Skillit: Erin Renee Roberts
Mom: Kathleen Sitzer*

Skillit (Erin Renee Roberts) and Mom (Kathleen Sitzer).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Creative
Scenic Designer: Dunsai Dai
Lighting Designer: Michael Sullivan
Costume Designer: Michele Siler
Sound/Projection Designer: Michael Sullivan
Stage Manager: Emily Clinger
Assistant Stage Manager: Taylor Baer
Props Supervisor: Jennifer Horton
Master Electrician: Tony Anselmo
Board Operator: Justin Smith
Wardrobe Supervisor: Malaika Pedzayi-Ferguson

Skillit (Erin Renee Roberts).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Catering Team (The Rossis!): Myrna Hersherman
Judi Berger
Julie Frankel
Paula Sigel

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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