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Fussell's Marriage Is Sliced and Diced in 'Kitchen Wars'

February 02, 2001|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Early on in Betty Fussell's "My Kitchen Wars--A Marriage Digested" at the 2nd Stage, there's a disturbing moment when Dorothy Lyman, who plays Fussell in her autobiographical one-woman show, stands poised to bisect a squirming lobster with a kitchen cleaver.

Happily, we are spared that evisceration. But, to belabor an obvious metaphor--as Fussell shamelessly does throughout this recapitulation of her failed marriage to historian and cultural commentator Paul Fussell--we never get into the guts of the matter. The promise of raw violence and dark revelation dribbles away into a droning chronology of marital malfeasance, not so much a kitchen war as a kitchen snit that leaves the accomplished Lyman spinning her egg beater.

During the course of the evening, Lyman prepares a multi-course meal--lobster bisque, salad and a souffle--a feat of concentrated puttering that Lyman and director Evelyn Purcell orchestrate down to the last clove of garlic. Live jazz vocals by Melissa Sweeney, accompanied by Jon Sachs on guitar and herself on keyboards, lend a mellow ambience to this otherwise dispiriting dinner gathering.

George Landry's spectacular kitchen set includes a sink with running water and a working stove, but Fussell's best dishes--the gossipy tidbits that juiced up the published memoir upon which this piece is based--are conspicuously absent. Randy anecdotes about Kingsley Amis and other prominent literary figures didn't make the cut in Fussell's monomaniacal venting against her ex, portrayed here as a monster of egotism and entitlement.

Fussell, who went on to become a noted food writer, paints herself as a pre-feminist victim, schooled to sacrifice her all to her spouse, however unworthy. That's a pat excuse, and unsatisfying. Despite an explosive revelation toward the end of the play, Fussell's reasons for enduring her loveless marriage remain obscure. As for Lyman, a gracious hostess hemmed in by her script, she cannot ultimately expiate Fussell's primary sin against hospitality--humorlessness.

*

* "My Kitchen Wars--A Marriage Digested," 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Feb. 18. $20. Running time: 2 hours.

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