Sunday, June 10, 2012

Theater Review: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti -- TheaterWorks

Antoinette LaVecchia. Photo: Lanny Nagler
'Sex and the City,' 'Love, Loss and What I Wore' and 'Bad Dates' all Get Together Over a Delizioso Pasta Dinner
By Lauren Yarger
Antoinette LaVecchia sparkles like a fine Chianti in Connecticut playwright Jacques Lamarre's stage adaptation of Giulia Melucci's bestselling memoir I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti getting a delectable world premiere at TheatreWorks in Hartford. 

LaVecchia, directed by Rob Ruggiero, serves up delicious, humor-seasoned stories of disastrous dating relationships while working out her frustrations by kneading homemade pasta  and whipping up an Italian dinner for 10 lucky theatergoers seated at stage-side tables. From antipasto and salad to spaghetti Bolognese, LaVecchia blends a bubbling personality with Melucci's tales from the dating trenches for a dinner party where the women of Candace Bushnell's "Sex and the City," Nora and Delia Ephron's Love, Loss and What I Wore, and Theresa Rebeck's Bad Dates would feel right at home. 

New York writer/publicist Giulia entertains the audience with details about relationships with Mr. Wrong while cooking to relive her stress prior to a date with the one who could be Mr. Right and taking numerous phone calls from her overly inquisitive mother. She always thought that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, but despite all of her culinary skills, none of her past relationships have resulted in the “specialita della casa” of every good Catholic, Italian girl – a walk down the aisle. (Lamarre chops the number of relationships recounted in Melucci’s book and focuses on a variety of guys who have been recipes for relationship disasters.)  

They include Giulia’s first boyfriend and tender memories of their making out, her first sexual encounter, the love that got away, the Scottish guy whom she never should have dated, the older guy with kids she dates out of sheer desperation and even a relationship with her priest when she opts for a period of celibacy. Giulia offers some personal revelations along the way too: she remembers what guys order to eat on first dates, not what they wear; she loves her mother, but she driver her nuts. 

Relationships are a lot like making pasta, she tells us – it gets sticky at times, but it’s worth the effort. A drawer full of souvenirs – a beer can from the guy who drank too much and a picture of another’s ex girlfriend , among other items – are proof that her taste in men has left a bit of a bitter taste in her mouth, but also reminders that she has learned from each experience. 

Each story includes humor, seasoned by LaVecchia’s mocking characterizations of the men’s voices as she recalls their conversations. Her take on the older Charles-Nelson-Reilly sounding guy is saucy, even while the Bolognese simmers on the stove in her functioning kitchen (John Coyne designs the colorful set lighted by John Lasiter). She also deserves a big salute! and a tip of the wine glass for reciting the two- and-a-half-hour-long mouthful of a monologue (there is one intermission) without being distracted by adjusting the temperature on boiling water, adding a pinch of salt to the dough or delivering the plates to her dinner guests. (D & D Market in Hartford, Hartford Baking Company in West Hartford and Bin 228 across the street from TheaterWorks all have donated food items for the run of the production).

While the script measures out generous portions of humor and palatable storytelling, the start of the play could use a little more simmering for a smoother roux into the entrée: Giulia launches too heavily into her anecdotes before we feel really know who she is or why we are in her apartment (and oddly there is no interaction between her and the folks for whom she’s preparing pasta from scratch, something which she tells us she only does for people she loves, so who are they?) Also, pronounced changes between scenes where lights go down with music playing (Sasha Wahl, sound design) are superfluous – we’re just going from salad to pasta, not changing days or settings. They interrupt the momentum. 
These items requiring a toothpick are small potatoes, however. Overall, it’s an enjoyable evening about good food and bad relationships -- topics to which most everyone can relate.  
Mangia! I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti runs at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford, has been extended through July 14. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30, Fridays and Saturday at 8 pm with weekend matiness at 2:30 pm. Tickets: 860-527-7838; Special kitchen seating at the tables bordering the stage (includes a glass of wine and the food prepared during the show) is $76. Copies of the book “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” signed by Melucci, LaVecchia, Lamarre and Ruggiero are available in the lobby or by calling the box office. 
Full disclosure: Jacques Lamarre, Director of Communication and Special Projects at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, is a critic colleague and covers Connecticut theater with me for

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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