The show: “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” at Hartford’s TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St.
First impressions: The world premiere stage adaptation of Giulia Melucci’s memoir of coming to grips with why she isn't as successful in romance as she is when she's cooking Italian is a kind of “Bad Dates Alfredo.” It's an entertaining crowd-pleaser due in no small measure to its on-stage cooking concept, funny observations of mating rituals and pop culture, and Antoinette LaVecchia's personable performance.
But more work needs to be done by adapter Jacques Lamarre (full disclosure: a fellow theater critic and friend) and director Rob Ruggiero in shortening the show’s length (perhaps cutting a course or two), smoothing out the transitions and most importantly giving more meaning to the series of engaging anecdotes. As it stands now, it's a tasty amuse bouche suggesting a greater meal awaits.
With more depth of flavor?: Exactly. It’s clear the gal can cook. LaVecchia prepares from scratch a three-course meal on stage and serves it to 10 audience members seated at five tables. She can also cook up well-seasoned stories about her disastrous relationships with men that can be very frank and funny. After all, there’s something about hanging out in the kitchen that makes people feel comfortable about letting it all hang out and that’s true, too, here.
Sounds like fun: Oh, it is. And the show has some delicious bits, even when some of them — a hilarious impersonation of Charles Nelson Reilly, for instance, — outstay their welcome in their repetition.
But with LaVecchia, who reminded me a little of Valerie Harper and Gilda Radner in her likability and comic chops, you feel you’re in wonderful company. And it would be almost rude to demand more from such a charming host and raconteur. But if the show wants to go beyond dinner theater, more is needed
Like what?: For instance, the connections between food and the men in this heroine’s life are fuzzy, aside from some well-honed kitchen adages and fulsome use of food metaphors. But for the men in her life, the cuisine is beside the point.
Her first serious boyfriend, Kit, who turns out to be an alcoholic, is fine with just a can of Campbell’s soup. Ethan, a Jewish man not inclined to commitment, isn’t particularly a foodie. And Marcus, an older man she dates, is more into his Vespa than her ragu.
Sure, Giulia’s kitchen skills gives her confidence and comfort but —because of her bad choices in men — is there something else going on? It’s hard to say. “See, I’m complicated,” the straight-talking Brooklyn girl says. Confusing is more like it, at least at this stage of the work’s development. Regular phone calls from her mother are a comic device meant more to make a transition between scenes than illuminate character. We don’t get a real sense of Mom or their relationship.
The relationships with the men are even more confounding and their inattention to appreciate such a dating prize is puzzling. After all, 20 minutes into the show, the audience is ready to marry her. These relationships just unravel, failing to build to a satisfying or surprising end. They simply stop with Guilia left holding the baguette after she’s been chopped.
Then at the show’s end we get some late breaking news and are left to presume how she finally achieves her just desserts. But however unearned, only an ingrate would not want to kiss this cook and wish her well.
Who will like it?: Italian-Americans. Williams-Sonoma fans. Women of a certain age who find comfort in sharing horrible dating experiences.
Who won’t?: Those with a taste for something heartier.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: It’s enjoyable, light fare, but with more development this promising show can go beyond dinner theater.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: If The Food Network wants to get into original programming, it could do a lot worse to take a look at this project because it hits many of its targeted demographics, is funny and has a captivating top chef. (Take that Giada!)
The basics: Running time is two hours and 15 minutes, including a pre-show spiel and one intermission. The show runs through July 8. Tickets are $50 to $63 ($17 for student rush). Special “kitchen” seating in the front row where you get a glass of wine and food prepared by the actress is $76. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m,, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and weekend matinees at 2:30 p.m.
Information: 860-527-7838 and www.theaterworkshartford.org.
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