Playwrights Cindy Hanson and Cheryl Norris, debuting their new "Texas comedy" at Lifeline, have a deft touch when it comes to comedy and characterization. These two gals are no strangers to crafting dialogue that tickles and creating characters that are unique, sympathetic, and delightfully quirky. Set over the course of one very eventful day in a small Texas town, where Addie's Diner is the social center, Cooking with Lard manages to introduce us to an almost dizzying ( and often dizzy ) array of characters, situations, and problems. There's the taciturn Addie herself, who doesn't speak unless she has something important to say, her right hand Gerry, a lunatic vegetarian activist, a couple spicy old ladies, bubbleheaded drill team members, bingo players, a manic mama, her Girl Scout daughter, a yuppie lawyer, and of course, El Rita, the talk of the town. El Rita is on the lam because her husband has turned up dead and the gossips of the town are pointing their fingers at her. This alleged murder is the line of continuity upon which all the above characters and events have been threaded.
One would think, with all of these characters marching on and off stage, and all these disparate story lines, Cooking with Lard would move with breakneck speed. No such luck. Although the show, and its creators, demonstrate tremendous potential, Cooking with Lard winds up being overlong ( no light comedy such as this should hold an audience in the theater for two and a half-hours ) . A half-hour to 40 minutes could easily be cut from this gem, making it sparkle all the more brightly. As it stands, the various episodes that make up the day at Addie's Diner run on too long. Each one wears out its welcome before it ends, like a good friend who just doesn't know when to shut up. It also doesn't help that Cooking with Lard is essentially a collection of ( again, very funny and clever ) anecdotes, with only the thinnest of plots to tie them together. When the "killing" angle comes to a conclusion near the play's end, it's unsatisfying, because the southern angst and feminist hook are cliché.
Cooking with Lard still needs some tinkering to deliver on the promise of its creators' genius ( a promise that's clearly evident ) . Just a little work on creating a cohesive anchor and some pruning would make this a vehicle worthy of the huge talent exhibited by its all-female ensemble. Katie McLean, Dorothy Milne, Kathleen Powers, and Martie Sanders, all in multiple roles, deliver a powerhouse of thespian ability. Match their gifts with a script that's polished and you'll have a show that really cooks.