'Stuffed': Theater Review

STUFFED -  Jessica Luck, Zainab Jah, Ann Harada and Lisa Lampanelli - Publicity-H 2016
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg
Very funny, but more of a group therapy session than a play.

Comedian Lisa Lampanelli stars in her debut playwriting effort about women's food and body-image issues, receiving its world premiere off-Broadway.

Lisa Lampanelli lost over 100 pounds after having gastric sleeve surgery several years ago. Now she's gained a play.

The famed insult comedian stars in her first theatrical venture, being given its world premiere by off-Broadway's WP (formerly Women's Project) Theater. Dealing with women's food and body-image issues, Stuffed has the feel of a Weight Watchers group therapy session. Or at least it would, if Weight Watchers weren't referred to so derisively in the piece.

The play's premise is simple. Four women are sitting in a living room, a refrigerator looming ominously in the background, gabbing about their respective experiences grappling with food disorders. Lampanelli essentially plays herself, an acerbic stand-up comedian who, during the course of the evening, occasionally grabs a microphone and delivers profane comic riffs on the subject.

The other characters are Stacey (Ana Harada, Avenue Q), a self-proclaimed "happy fat girl" who feels no shame about her body; Katey (Zainab Jah, Eclipsed), who complains of suffering reverse discrimination because she remains skinny no matter how much she eats; and Britney (Jessica Luck), an anorectic who has remained svelte due to purging and heavy doses of laxatives.

Not a single issue relating to the play's theme goes unexplored: the futility of diets; guilty pleasure, high-caloric foods; the horrors of blue jeans (wearing them requires a choice between "camel toe and muffin top"; the struggle not to overeat during holidays; the excuses people create for not eating right or going to the gym; the tyranny of the scale (including Lampanelli's priceless, scatological advice about how to fool them); and the pervasive fantasy about how everything about your life will be different if you just achieve the perfect weight.

Not surprisingly, the playwright gives herself the best one-liners ("I light up like Jerry Sandusky at a Cub Scouts meeting!"). But she also delivers some of the more affecting moments, such as her memory of being humiliated at a comedy club by a heckler who shouted, "Bring back the fat chick!" and a description of a past relationship with a 400-pound man who died of diabetes. Sporting hair colored with bright yellow and aqua blue streaks, the comedian — a shadow of her former self — also discusses the physical suffering she endured as a result of surgery that people describe as the "easy way out" to lose weight.

Under Jackson Gay's unobtrusive direction, the four performers make the most of their schematic characters. But even with a running time of little more than an hour, the piece becomes repetitive, its lack of dramatic structure making it feel ironically undernourished.

There's certainly much here to relate to, as evidenced by the knowing laughs and loud murmurs of recognition emanating from the audience. And since more than two thirds of adults in the United States are considered overweight or obese, there's clearly a considerable audience to be mined. That makes it more of a shame that Stuffed doesn't have more meat on its bones.

Venue: McGinn/Cazale Theatre, New York
Cast: Ann Harada, Zainab Jah, Lisa Lampanelli, Jessica Luck
Playwright: Lisa Lampanelli
Director: Jackson Gay
Set designer: Antje Ellermann
Costume designer: Jessica Ford
Lighting designer: Yael Lubetzky
Sound designer: Elisheba Ittoop
Presented by WP Theater