I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti
June 1-July 8, $17-$76, TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford, (860) 527-7838, theaterworkshartford.org.
When Hartford-based playwright Jacques Lamarre spotted Giulia Melucci's memoir I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti on a table at a friend's house, he quickly saw the dramatic possibilities. His friend, a book publicist, was hosting a dinner party at the time.
"He pointed across the room at another guest and said, 'Well, she's the one who wrote it'," recalls Lamarre. The planets, pots, pans and serving trays must have all been in alignment because over the course of several follow-up conversations with Melucci, Lamarre was able to secure permission to adapt her book for the stage. Three years later, that adaptation is having its world premiere at Hartford's TheaterWorks, opening June 1 and running through July 8.
The book chronicles Melucci's decade-plus of wandering though the romantic wilderness of New York City. Having learned to cook, and enjoy food, as a girl growing up in an Italian-American family in Brooklyn, Melucci uses vittles as her virtual valentine.
"I was exposed to a lot of good food growing up," said Melucci in a phone conversation from her New York office. "My mother was a competent cook and really shined in the kitchen. Food was always associated with the family being together. Cooking came naturally to me because of that. It was the area of life where I had confidence. I didn't have confidence in romance or love, but the kitchen was a safe space for me."
Lamarre, whose edgy Jacques Lamarre Has Gone Too Far enjoyed a recent run at New Britain's Hole in the Wall Theater, has compressed the stage version of Melucci's book by including only four of the former significant others described in her memoir.
"One is an alcoholic, one won't commit, one turns out to be crazy and one just uses her connections in publishing to get his book published and then drops her," says Lamarre. "What's great about the book is that Giulia never goes to that 'men are pigs' place. There's a little 'woe is me' but it's not overdone."
Lamarre also made it a one-performer play. That one performer is, happily, the gifted Antoinette LaVecchia, acclaimed for her role in TheaterWorks' recent production of The Laramie Project. LaVecchia inhabits the role as if born to play it, holding forth in a kitchen stage-setting that includes a working stove. At each performance, she will whip up a meal while playing her part and the food will be shared with the audience members in the special front-row table seatings.
I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti was an ideal early summer vehicle for TheaterWorks.
"Rob [Ruggiero, TheaterWorks' director] said the theater needed lighter fare because the last plays had been dark and the ones coming up were not exactly laugh riots," says Lamarre.
Budget constraints also made it incumbent on the theater to reduce the size of the productions. Ruggiero asked Lamarre if he knew anyone or any play that might work.
"He wasn't thinking that I might have something personally, but I had been internalizing Giulia's book as a play for three years and he had seen other work of mine and knew enough to trust me," says Lamarre, adding with a laugh. "This isn't to say that he wasn't nervous."
Melucci attended a rehearsal read-through in early May and liked what Lamarre had done with her book. "I had to make it sound like someone just talking in her kitchen and not like a book," says Lamarre. "At two different points in the read-through, Giulia was crying. Whether out of joy or mortification, I don't know."
"I wasn't nervous at the read-through," Melucci said. "Jacques sent me the script ahead of time and I thought it was fantastic. Antoinette is so good in the role. She's not me but she's a great character and it's nice that these things take on a life of their own outside the pages of a book. She is just hilarious and people are going to laugh their asses off."
A stage adaptation was not something Melucci had considered until Lamarre mentioned the idea to her. "I thought, if anything, it might make a TV show, a sitcom with maybe a recipe at the end and a Web component, like That Girl set in the kitchen."
But she has warmed to the idea. "It's looking good from the responses of other stage companies, and I'm feeling confident that it might be a hit."
Melucci even jokes about a musical version of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, saying, "O Calcutta! was the first nudie musical. This will be the first foodie musical!"
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