Review: Unorthodox Chef's Story Makes For A Fulfilling Evening At WHAT

By: Ellen Petry Whalen

Topics: Local Theater

Shanel Sparr in “Raging Skillet” at WHAT.  MICHAEL AND SUZ KARCHMER PHOTO

Even though it’s the last play of their 34th season, Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater is heating up the stage with “Raging Skillet,” a scorching comedy about cooking, taking chances and family dynamics.

Known as a “rebel anti-caterer,” Chef Rossi broke the jello mold from the beginning. Filled with humorous reflections and recipes, her 2015 memoir “The Raging Skillet” was turned into a comedic play by Jacques Lamarre.

The cheeky comedy begins like a live cooking show, but the graffiti covered walls (scenic design by Richard Wadsworth Chambers) and accompanying DJ are the first clues that Chef Rossi is no Martha Stewart. In fact, to drive this point home, one of Martha’s cookbooks is prominently displayed, but her photograph has a doodled mustache on it.

Shanel Sparr plays Chef Rossi with an abundance of energy and is a natural in the demanding role. The premise is a launch party for her new book, and the rockin’ unapologetic-lesbian chef promises to “head bang your taste buds.” She is assisted by her sous chef DJ Skillet, dynamically portrayed by Michael Patrick Trimm, who helps with creative sound effects, music, serving food, and conjuring up any character that Chef Rossi needs when telling her stories.

Before the cooking demonstration begins, Chef Rossi’s Yiddish-speaking mother wanders on stage unexpectedly. After her mom explains she came for the book debut, Chef Rossi cries, “But you’re dead since 1992!” Her mother quips, “Jewish mothers never die.”
Chef Rossi wittily recounts childhood memories that led her into the avant-garde culinary world, like when home cooking died, at least in her kitchen, with the arrival of their first microwave. Tired of her mother’s fast and inedible microwavable meals, she was inspired to make her first pizza bagels at 13. Taking a unique multi-sensory approach, the show also provides fresh out-of-the-oven samples to the audience.

Chef Rossi humorously delves into her Jewish upbringing, which she comically describes as “Orthodox light.” After running away as a rebellious pot-smoking teen, she was sent away to live with a Brooklyn Hasidic rabbi who “took in feral Jewish children.” Realizing her feministic and strong-willed ways didn’t lead her to conform, she fled for Manhattan.

As a self-taught chef who overcame many sexist bosses, Chef Rossi ultimately became the toast of NYC as the “anti-caterer.” She knew she made it big when she was invited to cater the 10-year anniversary party for “The Vagina Monologues,” where she was given the challenge of creating “anatomically correct” food items.

Throughout the comedy, Chef Rossi’s mother likes to stir the proverbial pot, adding to the friction between her and her daughter. Kathryn Kates masterfully plays the mother (the long-time professional actor even played a recurring role on Seinfeld). When she isn’t “kvetching” about Chef Rossi’s eating bacon, she is pulling at the heart strings of the audience, as mother and daughter try to find some common ground.

First-time WHAT director Sasha Brätt ensures the pace is fast and the narrative maintains its edginess during the 90-minute show without an intermission.

Described as a “deliciously unorthodox comedy,” the show prompted many outbursts of laughter on Friday night, plus the added benefit of the real Chef Rossi (who has lived in Provincetown) laughing right alongside them.


“The Raging Skillet”
At Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, Route 6, Wellfleet
Through Sept. 15
Information and reservations: 508-349-9428