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A CurtainUp My Kitchen Wars Review

My Kitchen Wars
By Amanda Cooper

Dorothy Lyman
Dorothy Lyman (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Do not be fooled. Though the entire play takes place in a kitchen, and the title speaks for itself, this room of the house played second fiddle.

Betty Fussell does casually cook throughout the show and creates a simple yet elegant meal by curtain time. Even her children are treated as footnotes, given a few facts each in order to create sketch images as key players in her life. However, despite the atmosphere on stage and the metaphors in the stories, food is far from the focus of the performance. What the audience is given instead is the story of the relationship between Fussell and her former husband. It is a relationship that comes across as consistently rocky even though she says she still loves him -- just like she still loves butter.

The final straw that led to divorce comes as no shock since, from the beginning of the marriage, Paul comes across as the moody, finicky one. As she details the history of the marriage, we hear how the steamy college dating turned into a long distance relationship and then into a young and naive marriage.

As Betty learned more and more about her husband, she also learned more and more about cooking. The culinary learning curve takes us from Lipton cup o' soup inspirations to lobster bisque. We comprehend these learning experiences through casual analogies, equating her Paul learning curve to her food learning curve. It's her relationship with the culinary arts that most consistent and still standing.

My Kitchen Wars, the book, is a memoir written by Betty Fussell. My Kitchen Wars, the play, is an adaptation written and performed by Dorothy Lyman. Though it's a valiant effort, too many details and stories from the book had to be cut to accommodate an under two-hour play. The richness of Fussell's life have become lost and, though her journeys are endearing, they add up to an outline of a life, not a complete picture. The staging of the story is not helped by Lyman's being younger than called for by the story, with no effort made to project an older personage. Somehow this negates the authenticity of the text. Lyman's resemblance to Martha Stewart also conjures up unfair judgments of Fussell's personality.

It would be inappropriate to conclude this review without mentioning Melissa Sweeney, the light-jazz singer who breaks up the solo play into more edible chunks. While Sweeney provides short, easy on the ears breaks from Betty Fussell, she did not seem to serve any larger purpose or enrich the story.

George H. Landry, the set designer also deserves a nod. His working kitchen is both impressive and comfortable.

The production is of a high level of quality overall, but its parts do not add up to anything dynamic enough to make it worth leaving the comforts of our own home kitchens -- even one of the typically galley sized NYC variety.

My Kitchen Wars
Book by Betty Fussell, adapted for the stage by Dorothy Lyman
Directed by Elinor Renfield Starring Dorothy Lyman, featuring Melissa Sweeney
Set Design: George H Landry
Lighting Design: Ji-youn Chang
Musical Director: Bill Cunliffe
Sound Design: Melissa Sweeney
Running Time 1 hours, 30 minutes, without an intermission
78th Street Theatre Lab 236 West 78th Street (Broadway & Amsterdam) SmartTix 212-868-4444
Beginning March 5, opening March 17th, 2004
Wednesday - Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 7:30pm and 3pm, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:30pm.
Tickets are $35
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on March11th press performance

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