- OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic / Outer Critics Circle
If you are in the mood for insult comedy that claims to take the important topic of women and weight seriously – but does not – then Lisa Lampanelli’s “Stuffed,” currently enjoying a revival at the Westside Theatre Downstairs, might be a show to put on your “must-see” list. However, if you think making jokes about the color of Michael Jackson’s skin and other ethnic humor is distasteful (which this critic believes it is), then you would be better off staying home and having a piece of cake and not worrying about your weight. True, Ms. Lampanelli’s trademark ethnic humor is downplayed here; however, when it does take center stage it comes across as completely inappropriate and fails to make any connection to any valuable rhetorical argument about food and its discontents.
“Stuffed” addresses the gamut of issues surrounding weight and its gain or loss (intentional or otherwise), including: body-image; clothing; shaming; anorexia-bulimia; dieting; therapy; favorite foods; binging; purging; peer support; and protein shakes. The playwright alternates between her own style of stand-up comedy with a variety of sketches about the weight issues. She then stuffs the script with monologues from each of the fictional characters meant apparently to seduce the audience into caring and possibly experiencing a needed catharsis.
Lisa Lampanelli plays herself here and, in her stand-up routines, delivers some funny material – mostly when it is self-deprecating or political. Her bit stalking her opponent in a debate on who wins, skinny or fat people, Lampanelli successfully riffs the Trump-Clinton Presidential debate. Joining her are Marsha Stephanie Blake who plays Katey the “skinny” African-American woman who cannot gain weight; Lauren Ann Brickman who plays Marty the “size 18-or-over woman with true inner confidence;” and Eden Malyn who plays Britney the recovering bulimic/anorexic. Ms. Blake fares best here and brings to the lackluster script a sense of authenticity and pathos in her monologue about her mother taking her to buy her first bra.
In one of her monologues, Ms. Lampanelli shares a part of the session she had with her “shrink” after the death of her friend Frank. When the therapist innocently asks how Big Frank died, Lampanelli goes into a comedic rant about Frank’s weight and his diabetes and how her “half-a-clam of a shrink hits her with, you don’t have to be funny.” Her therapist’s suggestion was appropriate, and that diagnosis applies to “Stuffed” as a whole: the playwright tries too hard to be funny about a subject that ultimately is not funny, and which has been covered by comedians for decades. Had the playwright written the story of Big Frank with more sensitivity it could have been persuasive, empowering, and cathartic. Jackson Gay’s direction is tangential at best and might have contributed to some of the questionable choices made in the staging.
Perhaps Lisa Lampanelli might consider performing a shorter stand-up routine and play all the characters in “Stuffed.” If the play remains in its present format, the three characters need to be re-written with clearer and unique conflicts and developed with the depth that would endear the audience to them, caring about them and their significant struggles. “Stuffed” provides some laughs but too often at the expense of the characters it wishes to lift up and champion. In short, “Stuffed” is pleasant stand-up comedy; however, it is not theatre.
The cast of “Stuffed” features Marsha Stephanie Blake, Nikki Blonsky, Lisa Lampanelli, and Eden Malyn.
The creative team for “Stuffed” includes set design by Antje Ellerman, costume design by Jessica Ford, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by Elisheba Ittoop, and casting by Stewart/Whitley. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.
“Stuffed” performs at the Westside Theatre (Downstairs, 407 West 43rd Street) on the following schedule: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available by visiting http://stuffedplay.com/. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
Photo: Marsha Stephanie Blake and Lisa Lampanelli. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.