October 26, 2016

"Stuffed" Isn't Totally Filling

Stuffed, the new comedy by Lisa Lampanelli, is a perfect fit for the Women's Project Theater, now known as the WP Theater. It's written by a woman and deals with a subject that just about every woman has worried about at one time or another: her weight.

Lampanelli is a stand-up comedian who gained fame for making potty-mouthed zingers on the comedy roast circuit which led to a Grammy-winning comedy album, a series of comedy specials, an appearance on Donald Trump's reality TV show "The Celebrity Apprentice" and now this play, which is running at the McGinn/Cazale Theater through Nov. 13.

Stuffed is Lampanelli's first play (click here to read more about her) and it borrows from the same dramaturgical tradition as Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues and Nora and Delia Ephron's Love, Loss and What I Wore. All three offer up a diverse group of women who stand or sit on a stage and tell the audience stories related to the subject at hand.

But Ensler based The Vagina Monologues on the more than 200 interviews about sex and relationships that she did with women around the world. And the Ephrons based their show on Ilene Beckerman's bestselling memoir about the outfits she wore at significant moments in her life.

Lampanelli, who lost some 100 pounds after gastric sleeve surgery four years ago, uses her own experiences (the anger and shame she recalls feeling when a heckler in the audience referred to her as the "fat chick" is one of the most genuine moments in the show) but then fleshes out the rest of the 80-minutes with color-by--the-number observations about women with other size issues.

One has an eating disorder, another is naturally thin and resents the envy that engenders and the fourth is slightly chubby but has fought her way to body acceptance. Under the workman-like direction of Jackson Gay, each woman is literally given a moment in the spotlight to declaim her woes.

They talk about favorite foods and forbidden foods, the right and wrong ways to lose weight, the role parents and lovers play in a woman's body image and the tyranny of blue jeans. The bottom line is supposed to be that women should be allowed to love themselves no matter their shape. But that seems an odd message coming from a woman who's spent thousands of dollars to alter hers.

In addition to Lampanelli, the cast consists of Ann Harada, the original Christmas Eve in Avenue Q; Zainab Jah, the fiercest of the women in the Liberian war drama Eclipsed; and Jessica Luck, a newcomer making her off-Broadway debut.

They only succeed at varying levels. Still, more than a few of the jokes Lampanelli has written hit the mark. And the audience, made up primarily of middle-aged women, seemed quite satisfied with the evening.

All the food and weight talk made me a little self-conscious as my theatergoing buddy Bill and I sat down to dinner after the show. So I ordered two appetizers instead of a full meal. But then, I called the waiter back and ordered a big juicy pork chop. It was delicious. And I didn't feel bad about eating it. So maybe the play worked on me after all.

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