Adirondack Theatre Festival is presenting an original performance piece titled “Filler Up!,” written by Deb Filler and Lowry Marshall and performed with heart by Filler.
She is a dynamic presence and her performance of this very personal memoir bespeaks her career as a standup comic and motivational speaker. She is fully committed to every moment of the show and acts each with total veracity. And she is an accomplished musician and mime. It is her energy and her talent that carries the audience through some dry patches in the text.
In this 90-minute piece, performed without intermission, she tracks her life from her family’s exodus from Germany at the beginning of World War II to New Zealand where her Jewish father, a baker named Max, made challah famous. In fact, she enters with a handful of dough and proceeds to form a loaf of challah as the show progresses, braiding it and baking it in an onstage electric convection oven. As you might guess, when the show ends, the challah is fully baked.
On Monday night, “technically a preview,” the production seemed in excellent shape and Filler full of energy. Director Beatrice Terry moves her actor about a stylized, fully furnished, stainless steel kitchen with confidence and a sense of ownership. Lighting designer Tim Mascall makes the most of lighter moments with full stage lighting and more tender ones with pin spots.
The problem is, the tender moments, for instance a hospital scene where Filler’s dying father finally gives her his secret recipe for challah (she has been begging for it all her life), fail to engage. And the lighter ones usually centered on her battles with her tendency to overeat and her efforts to become a performer are more frustrating than funny.
There are some chuckles, however. Filler plays 20-some characters in the show. She does best with her Aunt Vippy Feldman, her mother’s sister, who drives her to a “fat camp” one summer day, rescues her the next and takes her to “Hung Fat’s Orient Express” for lots of Chinese food, including a “double order of squid balls, a dozen spicy shrimp rolls, two egg drop soups, and the moo shu special.” She tells the waiter to “double the duck.”
The best moment in the show comes when Vippy cites the story of an Egyptian slave-girl, Zaftiga, who actually parted the Red Sea even though Moses got the credit in the end.
Filler’s moments with her mother Judith and her sister Edie (“the only skinny woman in the family”) are filled with angst and become tiresome after a time. Some judicious cutting might be in order here. It occurs to me that this earnest performer and playwright may be too close to the material, which has been performed internationally according to the program, to recognize its theatrical flaws.
WHERE: Adirondack Theatre Festival, Charles R. Wood Theater, 207 Glen St., Glens Falls
WHEN: Through Saturday
HOW MUCH: $29 to $23
MORE INFO: 798-8374