Outrageous And Entertaining- “Raging Skillet” Opens New Season At New Jewish Theatre

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Erin Renee Roberts, Sarajane Alverson and Kathleen Sitzer star in “Raging Skillet” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Not only is New Jewish Theatre starting a new season, they are celebrating the first show under new Artistic Director, Edward Coffield. Retired Artistic Director, Kathleen Sitzer has not traveled too far, however, as she is on stage for “Raging Skillet,” a provocative and, for the audience, a tasty new play based on the outrageous career of the real Chef Rossi.

Chef Rossi was actually in the audience on opening night laughing at her own life as portrayed on stage by the remarkable Sarajane Alverson. Rossi was born a Jew (changed her name), became a lesbian and created some of the most inventive recipes ever to come out of Hell’s Kitchen or anywhere else. Her life was colorful no matter how many twists and turns that life took- and there were plenty of them. Playwright Jacques Lamarre presents the play as a cooking demonstration (based on Chef Rossi’s cookbook) as she is holding a press launch for the book.

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Eric Renee Roberts and Sarajane Alverson consult the “cook book” during the New Jewish Theatre’s production of “Raging Skillet.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

Ms. Alverson commands the stage and runs the gamut from presenting recipes, cooking and telling stories of her life all presented in an entertaining and creative way for this 90-minute one act. Working for several years in our area on many stages, Sarajane is a marvel at whatever material she tackles. “Raging Skillet” is truly tour de force for her unique talent as she handles the role of the chef as well as she has tackled a ruthless business woman, a femme fatale, an angel of death (or redemption) or any of the myriad number of roles she has mastered in the past. She not only carries the role, she connects with the audience which has a major role in the play as well.

The onstage Chef Rossi is in a constant battle with her late mother who appears and never leaves so the interaction here becomes both divisive and cathartic. Kathleen Sitzer is a perfect Jewish mother heaping praise, guilt and disappointment on the Chef adding a dash of insight into how Rossi has both coped and succeeded in her profession. It’s a great performance that blends well with the sarcasm and angst of the Chef.

Rounding out the cast is Erin Renee Roberts as Skillit- DJ, sous chef and various characters that wander in and out of  Chef Rossi’s memory. With a sassy attitude and witty repartee that matches the Chef, Roberts becomes a delightful partner and foil in this kitchen battle. The use of a fireman type pole to extract Skillit from her DJ post above the stage helps the frenzy and movement as it never stops in “Raging Skillet.” There are also a couple of assistants who aid in handing out goodies to the audience throughout the play.

Director Lee Ann Matthews wraps it all up in a happy package of food, fun and a festive mood. Things rarely slow down and with various recipes being passed out to various section of the audience, you don’t leave hungry (and if you do, the “leftovers” are passed around at the after play meet and greet with the actors). Everyone was treated to Jewish Sangria involving Manischewitz, apple juice and some other ingredients (also non-alcholoic available) and then members of the audience were treated to pizza bagels, snickers krispy bars, barbecued chicken tam tams or, in my case, chocolate covered bacon.

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Kathleen Sitzer talks to Chef Rossi (Sarajane Alverson) and her sous chef (Erin Renee Roberts) in “Raging Skillet” at NJT. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Dunsi Dai’s set design is pleasing on the eye and works effectively to keep the play moving. Michael Sullivan’s lights enhance the action and Michele Siler’s costumes are spot on. “Raging Skillet” is a treat on every level. The cast is hard working and simply flawless. Things move quickly and the outrageous and colorful life of Chef Rossi just astounds. See “Raging Skillet” at New Jewish Theatre through October 21st. Call 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.

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