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Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Theater review: In Stuffed, Lisa Lampanelli weighs in on body image

Written by
Raven Snook

No-holds-barred roast diva and formerly fat (her word) stand-up comic, Lisa Lampanelli gives us a lot to chew on with her first play: a plotless meditation on the food and body-image issues that plague many women. Featuring four ladies of varying dysfunctions and sizes—including Lampanelli, who famously dropped more than 100 pounds thanks to gastric sleeve surgery a few years back—the show aims for real and raw but comes off as stilted and stale from the first course on.

Stuffed begins with the quartet enthusing about their favorite foods directly to the audience before settling into an unstructured living room gabfest, complete with a fridge stocked with snacks. Bulimic Britney (Jessica Luck, struggling) survived abuse. Unwitting "skinny bitch" Katey (Eclipsed's Zainab Jah, woefully miscast) had a disapproving mother and absent father. Stacey (the always adorable Ann Harada, doing all she can) is happy being "big." (Maybe a size 12, she's the largest woman onstage and far from obese.) And Lisa (Lampanelli) chews the scenery as herself.

Though each woman gets her own meaty, melodramatic monologue, none transcends her stereotype, save for Lampanelli. That's not surprising considering the neophyte playwright has decades of experience penning intoxicatingly profane, first-person material for her routines, plus a 2009 memoir. Stuffed was initially conceived as an autobiographical one-woman show until she decided to expand it. Yet the evening fares best when the so-called "Queen of Mean" dumps the numbing naturalism, jumps off the couch, pulls out a microphone and starts doing her shtick, though she tempers her in-your-face stories with moments of pathos. (The bit about her late, 400-pound ex is equally hilarious and heartbreaking.)

Every character gets at least one such solo, but they seem to come out of nowhere, and director Jackson Gay hasn't found a way make sense of these transitions (that's probably a dramaturg's job). While there's an impulse to compare Stuffed to another chick pick, the much more successful Love, Loss, and What I Wore, Lampanelli is no Ephron (though Nora does get name-checked). She may have struggled with weight and self-acceptance all her life, but Lampanelli offers no insight you couldn't glean at a Weight Watchers meeting. With its current recipe, the show won't sate fans of her stand-up (like me) while traditional theatergoers may even find it in bad taste. Teetering on the scale between comedy and confessional, the show leaves you feeling bloated and unsatisfied.

McGinn/Cazale Theatre (Off Broadway). Written by Lisa Lampanelli. Directed by Jackson Gay. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission. Through Nov 6. Click here for full ticket and venue information.

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