This show has taste

February 16, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The tempting odor begins wafting through the theater toward the end of the show. This may not be an odor you're accustomed to in a theater, but it's warm and welcome.

It's the delicious scent of freshly baked bread, and it's coming from a convection oven on stage. Rotating tantalizingly on the metal rack is a loaf of challah that Deb Filler bakes in Filler Up! her one-woman show at the Theatre Project.

The challah, Filler explains, is made from a recipe that belonged to her late father, a Holocaust survivor who operated a bakery in New Zealand, where she was born and raised.

In the course of this wide-ranging 85-minute show, Filler discusses - and impersonates - her father, mother, baritone-voiced aunt, sister, assorted friends and even the women she encounters in group therapy. Along the way, she plays the guitar, re-enacts her first professional acting job - portraying "dead pudgy earthquake victim" in a disaster film - and, of course, she bakes the aforementioned poppy-seed-strewn, braided bread.

A woman of ample but not overabundant girth, Filler admits early on that she is "addicted to food." When she was born, she weighed 10 pounds, or, "six and a half loaves and a cinnamon bun." By age 12, she weighed 140 pounds. A few years later, her mother shipped her to fat camp in the United States.

Filler Up! was scripted by Filler and Lowry Marshall, and while much of it is about food, in a larger sense (forgive the pun), the show is about accepting yourself and forging your own path through life. This may sound like a therapy session of its own, but Filler brings so much humor and understanding to the subject, she keeps it from lapsing into self-indulgence.

Once you get past the awkwardly coy opening - in which Filler apologizes for being late (which she's not) and insists she's having a terrible day - you find yourself rapidly drawn into her unusual family saga. Growing up with a father who couldn't bear to waste food (yet berated her mother for gaining weight), it's hardly surprising that Filler wound up with conflicted feelings about eating.

Because bread is her favorite food, Filler tells us her father never would let her bake it; he was afraid she'd eat it all. Although she defies him by baking it now, she also abstains, concluding her show by offering the loaf to the audience instead.

Glistening and piping hot, the bread has a rich, yeasty taste. But in the end, what Filler has to offer is more than challah; it's a life-affirming philosophy that warms the heart as much as the stomach.

Filler Up!

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 24

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-752-8558

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