Full disclosure: Lisa Lampanelli and I studied at the same acting studio here in New York City, but all that means is she made superior choices in her training. Using that training to shine as an artist takes personal motivation, willingness to fail big and grace. Grace?
Are we talking about the same Queen of Mean? Put down your donuts, People, Lampanelli has hit her stride. The Insult Comic is no longer a one-note performer and I think there is way more good stuff to come.
If you are looking for a stand-up comedy show or a one-woman show confessing personal faults and recovery strategies, you'll be surprised to find that Lampanelli is bigger than that - well, physically she is smaller than she used to be - but the stories she presents here go beyond a single narcissistic narrative and demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of Western food, body image and feminine shame culture.
After busting out of a pad locked refrigerator to start the show, the entertainment and intrigue get turned up as Lampanelli has written three other women onto the stage with her.
Marty (Lauren Ann Brickman) is sexy, smiling and totally confident in her plus-sized body. Rather than being in denial, she is at peace with who she is and how she looks. She tells of what it took to be at a similar peace with how others see her. Lampanelli's writing is genuine and there is - erm - weight to it as well as acknowledgment of the absurdity of our expectations around the feminine aesthetic.
Brickman's performance is honest and brings a sense of intimacy to the show. She's also the character of Lampanelli's ex-boyfriend, Frank, when we flash back to when the Queen of Mean fell in love with a 400-pound hunk of sweet Italian man. Brickman is transformed in brief moments as the endearing Frank and it's brilliant.
Katey (Marsha Stephanie Blake) is the skinny bitch we think has no problems. I remember ignoring this girl while growing up, but Blake gets us hooked with her story of stereotyping and being disappeared by others like me in a room. She grew up at odds with her voluptuous mother just for her metabolism and this left her lonely and seeking attention from damaging people. Blake's eyes reach to the very back of the theater asking all of us to see her.
Britney (Eden Malyn) is the jewel of this show. She is the character who binges, purges and starves. Malyn brings all the horrors of struggling with how to be a perfect woman right to our laps. Malyn's performance slowly unravels an ugly secret that is very familiar to many of us - the bottom of that pit into which fell our self-esteem.
We feel that nausea that comes sometimes first thing in the morning when we review our life regrets. Why did I spend precious time doing that to myself? She is the survivor.
And we are cracking up the whole time! Director, Jackson Gay, gives us smooth set changes, hilarious dance sequences and hysterical beats following some cathartic tears. The descriptions of food orgies from these women will have you smelling movie popcorn laced with butter and M&M's and snorting at the shame this has made you feel in your life.
Lampanelli guides what is revealed on the stage with truly innovative writing that does not preach, does not over-sell the sentimentality and will leave you feeling like you came to a slumber party and left having made some really good friends.
Oh! And Lampanelli does tell us how she lost all that weight, how she's kept it off for four years and how she feels about all that, but this is not a motivational seminar. Being a woman in this place and in these times is a seriously messy business that doesn't fit in a Lululemon gift box. We're witnessing just the beginning of Lampanelli's art of performance which will take us a good long way outside the confines of a skinny little box. The Queen of Mean takes a different tactic - truly allowing others to shine on the stage with her, which makes Lampanelli the brightest star of them all. I sure am ready for more of this ride.
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)