Raging Skillet – Review by Tom Nissley

Rossi (Dana Smith-Croll) is hosting a book-signing at the Raging Skillet kitchen, for her autobiographical “Chef Rossi.” She welcomes us with loud music blaring in the background, and introduces her DJ, DJ Skillit (George Salazar), who takes care of the blaring music, is her assistant in the kitchen, and perhaps her publicist on the book tour. Then a little about herself. She is a Lesbian; she taught herself how to cook and serve. She is rebellious and independent and loud and occasionally foul-mouthed. Her book is the story of how she rose through the ranks in kitchens where she was often abused by superiors to become famous and sought after as a caterer.

Suddenly an apparition. Rossi’s very Jewish mama has decided to join her for the “book-singing party!” Mom (Marilyn Sokol) has been dead for more than twenty years, but her iron-clad presence reminds us that the ‘Mother in our head’ doesn’t just go away because of a little thing like dying. All of us have had the experience of that mother mentioning something as if she was right here and now, and Rossi is having the experience big time tonight. Promising to just sit here and be quiet, Mom, of course, does no such thing. In fact, Sokol’s are the best written lines in a fairly bland script and her antics keep us laughing. And her presence (i.e. her memory) is an important part of Rossi’s story, so much so that by the end of “Raging Skillet,” Rossi has touchingly put a scrapbook of mementos from Mom up on the shelf next to her new book.

All during the show, Rossi and DJ are preparing morsels that reflect the great catering Rossi has become famous for. They are aggressively mundane, and get passed out to the audience from time to time. Ragu Tomato Sauce on split muffins with a smattering of grated cheese, baked into miniature pizzas. Cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls on a skewer. Barbecued chicken bits on Ritz Crackers. I tasted the last one, nearly gagging. If Raging Skillet is a successful catering group, it cannot be from these recipes.

But the slick set (Michael Schweikardt) – a kitchen wall made of loudspeakers and a counter made of rolling sections with cutting-board tops, works like a charm. The costumes (Blair Gulledge) are acceptable. The lighting (John Lasiter) and especially the Sound (Julian Evans) are superb. John Simpkins’ directing is ok – it’s a tough script to work with, not really very chewy. I think most of the audience went home happy but I cannot imagine anyone telling neighbors this is a must-see production.

Tickets and information at www.theaterworkshartford.org, or phone 860-527-7838.