FLORIDA WEEKLY RAVES: LOVE AND LOSS MARINATED IN LAUGHTER AT FLORIDA REP

FLORIDA WEEKLY RAVES: LOVE AND LOSS MARINATED IN LAUGHTER AT FLORIDA REP

Read the Review on the Florida Weekly Site Here!

nancySTETSON
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Your mother probably taught you to never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

I offer the same advice for those planning to see “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” in the ArtStage Studio Theatre of Florida Repertory Theatre: Be sure to eat a good hearty meal beforehand.

The one-woman show not only includes numerous detailed descriptions of scrumptious meals, but the actual creation of a simple three-course dinner.

If you’ve paid an extra $35 for the privilege of sitting at one of the four front tables, you’ll be served antipasta, salad, wine, bread and spaghetti (made from scratch) in a Bolognese sauce.

It’s all whipped up by actress Michelle Damato while she talks about her string of failed relationships. She’s portraying Giulia Melucci, who wrote a memoir of the same name, which Jacques Lamarre adapted into this play.

Giulia (pronounced Julia) is pretty. She’s intelligent, and she has a great sense of humor.

So what’s her problem?

They’re multiple: She continually picks the wrong guys. Then she gives too much too quickly.

When she cooks for the men in her life, they take it as their due, and are unappreciative. (For one boyfriend, Ethan, she even took two days off work to prepare a Seder from scratch.)

Many women, upon seeing a red flag pop up in a new relationship, will take a step back and reassess. But like a bull, Giulia takes it as an invitation to rush forward and gets even more deeply involved. The guy doesn’t seem right? He’s unsupportive, uncommunicative? He drinks too much? Giulia doubles down and moves in with him.

This pattern, which she repeats over and over again, is very frustrating to hear. It’s almost like a primer in what not to do in a relationship.

It feels like a romantic horror movie. Time after time, you want to yell out to her, “Don’t do it!” You wish you could take her to the women’s restroom at Ed Debevic’s in Chicago, where, at the top of the mirror, in large, bold, black letters it says: YOU’RE TOO GOOD FOR HIM.

But she keeps making the same mistakes.

Throughout the show, she references various movies (including “Moonstruck”). And that could be part of her downfall: Giulia expects real-life love to be just like it is in the movies. The only problem is, someone forgot to give the script to the guys.

She’s a generous spirit; to her, food equals love. She uses it to woo, to seduce, to demonstrate her love and then, when the relationship’s over, to comfort herself.

Giulia is serially disappointed, rueful, yet perpetually optimistic. Ms. Damato is only the third actress in the country to play the role, having been chosen especially by director Michael Marotta for this production. A Florida Rep ensemble actor who has appeared in “Sylvia” and “Miracle On South Division Street,” she has considerable comedic skill and is perfect for the role.

She’s effervescent and lively as she interacts with the audience. She’s coy, flirty, irrepressible. And she makes you laugh as she tells you about her endless string of losers (though her impersonation of one feels a little more Ethel Merman than Charles Nelson Reilly.) The script also gives her room to improvise at times.

Though Giulia definitely has a knack for picking guys who can’t commit, eventually, you realize, she’s part of the problem: She’s equally as scared of commitment.

The set, by the late Bruce Bailey, consists of a fully functioning stovetop and sink. A couple of Rothko-esque paintings add color to the back wall, and a sculpture of a torso made with utensils adds to the culinary feel.

With the lights and raised platform, it initially looks more like the set for a cooking show, but Ms. Damato draws us all in and makes us feel as if we’re seated in her personal kitchen. She can’t capture the hearts of the galoofs she dates, but she certainly captures the audience’s.

It’s fascinating to watch Ms. Damato actually cook on stage, making pasta from flour and eggs, stretching out the dough with the help of a pasta machine and then shredding it into thin spaghetti strands.

When the audience oohed, she looked up with a twinkle on her eye: “I know, it’s like magic, right?” she said, agreeing with them.

My advice about eating beforehand stands, even if you’re eating at the show. My theater companion and I, not having eaten since lunch, were starving by the time the main dish was finally served toward the end of the second act.

By then, with all the talk of various meals and her boasting about her cooking prowess, I was expecting something out of this world that would make me almost moan with gastronomic pleasure. Though the salad had a nice light, lemon zing and interesting flavoring, the pasta lacked pizzazz.

Also, if you choose to pay extra for your seat so you can partake of the meal, know that you’ll almost be eating in front of the audience. And be forewarned: The ushers will tell you over and over again before the show that the wine is really wine and the meat dish … well, contains meat.

Florida Rep certainly knows its audience; “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” is so popular, it might be extended another week.

One-person shows are challenging to any actor, but to make a meal from scratch while performing one increases the difficulty. Ms. Damato deserves every bit of praise she receives. She makes it look effortless.

As for me, I went, I ate, I laughed.