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Fringe Review: Burnt at the Steak

May 17, 2013
By

BurntThis is how it happens. You see the promotional materials for Carolann Valentino’s Burnt at the Steak. You read that it is a comedic portrayal of her experiences working in a New York steakhouse. You think to yourself that this could be fun — Hell’s Kitchen as a one-woman show, perhaps.

Mere minutes into the performance, you realize you are actually trapped in a Star Search standup routine from 1983.

With songs.

Valentino stalks the stage, bowlegged and maniacal, as if she is held to it by an invisible pet fence and would otherwise leap out and assault you where you sit. Her eyes are open wider than Malcolm McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange; they bore into yours, seeking – nay, demanding — confirmation that you are having the time of your life. Because what other reaction is possible?

She sets the context for the show by dropping some knowledge about the culinary trade and her own Italian-American heritage. The Olive Garden, she reveals, is not authentic Mediterranean cuisine. The terms of your relationship are thus established: She is an absolute dipshit who inexplicably considers you the rube.

For what seems an eternity, Valentino impersonates the cast of colorful characters who allegedly populated the beef joint where she worked. They are all equally crude, unfunny, obnoxious stereotypes, and each exists mainly so she can belabor another pun that equates her establishment’s bill of fare with a part of the human reproductive system. Many of the characters get to sing songs, some of them standards retrofitted with smutty lyrics that would strike even The Office’s Michael Scott as irredeemably puerile (although they might play reasonably well to a middle-school boy who had just been hit in the head with a brick).

Through it all, Valentino keeps on pacing, staring, periodically lunging toward you without warning or invitation – anything to keep you off-balance. It is like being violated, and by the worst sort of assailant: one who has no idea he is committing a crime, because he cannot fathom that his attentions could be anything less than pleasurable.

You want to cry out “Stop!” Or “Go home!” Or “How dare you!” Instead, like many other survivors of abuse before you, you endure it by focusing on an innocuous, tangential object – in this case, a chart Valentino has hung upstage right that identifies the edible portions of the bovine anatomy. Gazing at it, you begin to wonder what your own flesh might taste like, as you would gladly chew off your own leg to escape.

Check, please.

 

Burnt at the Steak

Carolann Valentino Productions (New York, NY)

Rating: G14 (Adult Language & Subject Matter)

Run Time: 60 minutes

Green Venue

$11

Genre: Comedy, Musical, Solo Show, Improv

Websites – www.burntatthesteak.com

Video – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Burnt-at-the-Steak/157339290982161

Show Times:

Sat, May 18 2013, 10:15 p.m.

Mon, May 20 2013, 10:15 p.m.

Wed, May 22 2013, 11:30 p.m.

Thu, May 23 2013, 7:30 p.m.

Fri, May 24 2013, 9 p.m.

Sat, May 25, 6:45 p.m.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510347980 Rob Del Medico

    I that stating the performer is an “absolute dipshit” is a bit out of bounds. I realize you were trying to say that the performer is condescending to the audience by boasting of ‘insider’ knowledge consisting of facts that 95% of the world already knows, but the word choice was unnecessarily nasty. I have no issue with harsh reviews, and think the rest of the review was well in-bounds, but that phrase is very offputting.
    (And no, Weekly readers, I am not related to, nor do I know the performer, and haven’t seen the show in question.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/daelun Brian Rewis

    Yeah, calling her names was completely unprofessional. I cannot take this person seriously as a critic.

  • Dan

    I saw the show opening night. I liked the intensity and enthusiasm. I’ll probably see it again

  • http://twitter.com/RevNuge Reverend Nuge

    The only reason I wasn’t going to comment here is because I also received an unfavorable (though much less vicious) review from this critic and I didn’t want it to look like sour grapes…but then I figured – eh, that’s not a good enough reason.

    So…in the spirit of name calling – What an asshole!

  • Julie Parsons

    If you look at the context surrounding the descriptor “absolute dipshit” it seems to describe her character’s relationship to the audience, not the performer herself. Independently of that comment, the rest of the article, while harsh, is his opinion of the performance he saw.

    He hated it. So what? The Sentinel loved her. Get over it. Take it with a grain of salt. I’m sure she did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510347980 Rob Del Medico

    Julie, with all due respect, did you actually read what I wrote? I was very clear that I did not object to the rest of his review in my initial post, nor that I cared that he didn’t like it. I said, verbatim, “I have no issue with harsh reviews, and think the rest of the review was well in-bounds…”. I only cared about those two words, nothing more.

    I haven’t seen the show, I do not know this person, nor do I think critics have any sense of obligation to be ‘nice’ in their critique of the performance in question. I received a bad review in the Weekly once. I didn’t get upset or reply to it (and actually agreed with it to a degree).

    Regarding context, I’m not really buying that explanation. From what I’ve read in both reviews, this is an autobiographical show about the performer’s restaurant experience. The surrounding sentences were “She sets the context for the show by dropping some knowledge about the culinary trade and her own Italian-American heritage. The Olive Garden, she reveals, is not authentic Mediterranean cuisine”. In that context, it appears she is not playing a character at that moment, but acting as a narrator and providing her real life background. So it still comes across as the “dipshit” is referring to her, not any ‘character’. If that is not what he meant, it should have been phrased differently. I re-read the passage at least 10 times to give the benefit of the doubt.
    My impression is that the writer took umbrage with what he felt was the performer acting condescending to the audience and went too far with his comments. Why not just say that rather than make a labored analogy that could easily be construed as namecalling?

  • Gemma Wilcox

    I found this to be a deeply disturbing and offensive review. What this review insists will be my and others’ experience – as audience members – was not the case for me whatsoever, I have seen this show 3 times and loved it. I also spoke to people last night who loved it and are going back to see it and also bring their friends. This reads more like a vicious and very unprofessional personal attack of this very bright, generous and uplifting performer. It’s fine if the reviewer didn’t like the show, but at least write a professional and ethical review.

  • Adam McCabe

    Hey guys! Thanks for the clicks! <3

  • Steve Schneider

    To all who have commented:

    Please be assured that “dipshit” was not a word I used capriciously. For what may be the only time in my reviewing career, I came away from a show straining to comprehend how the performer could actually be a good and decent person after what she had done on that stage.

    In my review, I could have gone into greater detail about everything that made this such an unremittingly ugly and stupid piece of so-called theater. I could have mentioned the rank ethnic caricatures. Or the enforced audience participation, including the attempted shaming of an overweight patron — thwarted only when Ms. Valentino could not find anyone in her paltry opening-night audience who met her weight requirements, and so had to settle for grinding on an average-sized fellow while impersonating an obese black
    woman who likes ‘em big. I could have decried the contempt she showed for her audience by coming out and “disabusing” our backward little selves of the shallow misconceptions we surely must harbor about her own demographic group — only to then spend the rest of her show perpetuating even shallower stereotypes of groups to which she herself does not happen to belong. I could have pointed out the offensiveness of the show’s central tenet, which is that this willfully inobservant, self-enamored mean girl deserves some sort of medal for having been forced to share a bit of oxygen with such supposed lowlifes while pulling down over $200,000 per year, because the experience sometimes threatened to prevent her from going on auditions that would enable her to Follow Her Bliss.

    Instead of saying all of this, I elected to describe as best I could the supremely uncomfortable sensation of being in the front row while that parade of ill will and dunerheadedness played out in front of you. Suffice it to say that I know a survivor of actual, real-life abuse who also saw the show, and who thinks I was TOO KIND.

    So “dipshit”? No, I don’t regret using the word, or any of the others I employed. Not in the least.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510347980 Rob Del Medico

    If you’ll appreciate some constructive criticism, I don’t see how any reader could have been expected to unpack that from the original context you provided, which was a very mundane and inoffensive example. Had you included even one or two of the examples above in your original review, that would have painted quite a different picture (and I probably would have left it alone). In its original incarnation, it merely looked like you were calling a performer a dipshit because you found them annoying or mildly condescending; your examples above, while I admittedly can’t affirm or deny their accuracy (as I didn’t see the show), categorize the show in a much less appealing way; one that I probably would not have enjoyed either.
    It was never (for me, at least) about the harshness of the review. Frankly, reviews like this used to be much more common during Fringe time (read the Sentinel’s archives from 2006 for some entertaining examples). I appreciate you sharing your context, but it would have been nice if it’d actually been present in the original review.

  • Steve Schneider

    Fair enough … although I think the original review stands on its own merits, I was happy to provide the extra context. Another thing to consider: Had I worked both angles in the original review, it might have been twice as long and opened me to charges of “piling on.” There are people who think the clarification I posted constituted “not letting it go” or “doubling down” (although of course they didn’t express this to my face). The bottom line for me is that, in both the review and the follow-up, I told the absolute truth as I had experienced it, and with the words that would convey it the most accurately and succinctly. As far as I’m concerned, nothing more remains to be said.