At one moment in “Stuffed,” a scattershot play about our disordered relationship with food, Lisa Lampanelli talks with disdain about a skinny friend of hers who turned down dessert, saying ‘I’m not hungry.’
“Not hungry!?! Not hungry!?! What the F- does being hungry have to do with eating a goddamned dessert?”
It’s a funny line, expertly delivered by an experienced stand-up comic – experienced both in humor and in eating issues. If “Stuffed” offers many such nutritious morsels, unfortunately they are not the dominant flavor in this over-spiced but thin stew.
Lampanelli, who begins the show by bursting out of a padlocked refrigerator, tells us from the get-go that she has lost and gained over 372 pounds in her 56 years. But she waits almost to the end to explain that she has had weight-loss surgery. (“People think, ‘Oh, she got surgery to lose weight! That’s cheating. She took the easy way out.’ I used to think that, too…”) Her weight-loss surgery helps explain the incongruity of the svelte figure before us in a pink pantsuit and oddly purpled hair delivering so many fat jokes. But there’s no such easy explanation, except perhaps inexperience, for the odd hybrid that Lampanelli has created. “Stuffed” is overstuffed with one-liners, confessional monologues, lame parodies of morning talk shows and presidential debates, and awkward interaction between Lampanelli playing a version of herself and three actresses playing characters: Marty (Lauren Ann Brickman) is fat and proud; Britney (Eden Malyn) is a recovering anorexic; Katey (Marsha Stephanie Blake ) is a skinny woman who can’t gain weight.
There’s no plot, or even a sense of forward motion, and Lampanelli undermines any possibility of character development with her staccato writing. Much of the “dialogue” are riffs that are indistinguishable from lists. Excerpt from their riff on salads:
Lisa: I’d rather eat a gun than a salad
Britney: Unless it’s got croutons . . .
Marty: . . . bacon bits . .
Katey: . . avocado . . .
Marty: Mmm! Fat Girl Salad!
Britney: You know what I love? A wedge salad!
Lisa: Cobb salad!
Marty: Fried chicken salad!
Katey: Taco salad!
Britney, Lisa and Marty: Taco salad!
A little of this goes a long way, and there’s a lot of it.
Lampanelli’s fellow cast members are fine actresses but the playwright and star, with a background in stand-up not theater, simply doesn’t know how to employ them to best effect, and they wind up seeming peripheral and upstaged. A small, odd indication of this is the way she takes a hand microphone out of her pocket to deliver her solo lines, but none of the three other actresses get microphones.
Those unacquainted with Lampanelli’s humor need to be warned that it is often deliberately and defiantly, um, tasteless: Within a minute of bursting out of that refrigerator, she’s making a joke about her mother’s private parts. These vulgar jokes can feel as if they don’t belong in the same show as the serious monologues. One of the best is Lampanelli’s charming and sad story of her relationship with Big Frank, a terrific man, but one who was 400 pounds and wouldn’t commit to losing weight even though his obesity was killing him.
It’s a hint of what Lampanelli was aiming for, and it’s far from the only moment in “Stuffed” that works. But the loose structure of the show doesn’t hold them all together, making its 90 minute running time feel much longer.
Still, there is something in “Stuffed” that will surely stay with me, a vivid summary of the love-hate relationship with food. It’s a little sculpture sitting on a shelf on the kitchen set — a three-letter word, but it’s unclear whether the word is “eat” or “fat.”
Written by Lisa Lampanelli
with additional material by Ashley Austin Martin
Directed by Jackson Gay
Scenic design by Antje Ellerman, costume design by Jessica Ford, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by Elisheba Ittoop
Cast: Lisa Lampanelli, Lauren Ann Brickman, Eden Malyn, Marsha Stephanie Blake
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission