By Stanford Friedman
Search for Lisa Lampanelli on YouTube and you will find clips of a rather large woman performing hilarious and very raunchy insult comedy at various stand-up venues and on Comedy Central. Visit her at her new play, Stuffed, and you will hear moments of that humor, along with many breezier jokes, tucked into an emotional evening of confessions and soul searching, and a star who is more than 100 pounds lighter than she was five years ago. Weight disorders, compulsions and endless cravings are the foodstuffs of Stuffed. Joined by three talented actors, Ms. Lampanelli presents a sisterhood of women who have persevered through it all: physical abuse, fat shaming, love gone wrong and family dysfunction. Think The Vagina Monologues, but with cupcakes.
Playing a character named Lisa in a role that is largely autobiographical, Lampanelli hosts a girls’ night at her apartment. Her crew includes Britney (Jessica Luck) who is bulimic, skinny Katey (Zainab Jah) who could never gain weight, and Stacey (Ann Harada) who is overweight, but well-adjusted and self-confident. While snacking on fruit and the occasional cookie, the women riff on societal ills like fad diets and the fantasy of a “perfect weight,” while taking turns unloading their emotional baggage in a series of monologues. Lisa walks us through her early days, putting on that “Freshman 40,” and through her harrowing real-life relationship with Frank, an obese diabetic she lovingly describes as “a refrigerator with back hair.” Her big reveal, that she lost those many pounds through gastric sleeve surgery, comes late in the play, though any fan of hers would come into the night knowing this, since it appeared in nearly every tabloid mag last year. Whenever Lampanelli launches into a speech, she pulls a hand microphone from out of the blue and the lights make a subtle adjustment, a nice blurring of the lines between living room reality and comedy club daydream.
The other ladies don’t get a mic, but none of them need a prop to get by. Ms. Jah, a million miles away from her rebel soldier role in Eclipsed, is no less powerful when telling of her troubling times with her mother and of the tender moment when she first felt feminine. Ms. Luck, in her Off-Broadway debut, offers a wisely understated performance. She expresses her totally distorted beliefs about eating and thinness so matter-of-factly that I shivered. And Ms. Harada shows she has lost none of her personable comic timing since her Broadway days in Avenue Q,
This is Lampanelli’s premiere as a playwright, and there are some signs of first-play syndrome. The characters speak mostly to or at the audience, rather than establishing meaningful dialogue among themselves. And, beyond their weight issues and troubled histories, they are not, pardon the pun, especially well rounded. We’ve no idea how these diverse women got to know each other or what they do when not dropping in on Lisa. But, to her credit, Lampanelli writes what she knows and has crafted an impressive structure throughout all of the monologues. Director Jackson Gay keeps the stage and the action well-balanced, even if characters’ diets are anything but.
Finally, as a public service, I should mention that this company is dealing with highly suggestive material. They discuss so many deliciously unhealthy snacks throughout the evening that the guy next to me in the audience was drooling a little, and I found myself racing to the bodega afterward for an ice cream sandwich and a bag of Lay’s.
Stuffed – By Lisa Lampanelli; directed by Jackson Gay.
WITH: Lisa Lampanelli (Lisa), Ann Harada (Stacey), Zainab Jah (Katey), and Jessica Luck (Britney).
Scenic Design by Antje Ellermann, Costumes by Jessica Ford, Lighting Design by Yael Lubetzky, Sound Design by Elisheba Ittoop; Danny Maly, production stage manager. WP Theater at the McGinn/Cazale Theater, 2162 Broadway, at 76th Street, (866) 811-4111, https://bit.ly/STUFFEDTIX. Through Sunday, November 6. Running time: 80 minutes.