THE NEWS-PRESS RAVES: FLORIDA REP’S ‘SPAGHETTI’ IS ONE TASTY DISH!October 15, 2015
CHARLES RUNNELLS, CRUNNELLS@NEWS-PRESS.COM
A warning about Florida Rep’s newest comedy: Whatever you do, don’t come hungry.
Those aren’t plastic vegetables and fake spaghetti noodles onstage. They’re the real thing.
Actor Michelle Damato whips up an entire Italian meal from scratch, right before your eyes. And the wafting aromas of garlic, onion and Bolognese sauce are enough to make even full stomachs rumble.
Eight lucky audience members sit at dinner tables surrounding the stage at Florida Rep’s ArtStage Studio Theatre, and they actually get to eat all that delicious-smelling food (those tickets cost an extra $35). The rest of us have to watch, our eyes big and our mouths watering.
Don’t worry, though. The culinary torture is well worth it in this winning production of “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.”
I don’t know how Damato does it. It’s challenging enough chopping vegetables, cracking eggs, keeping track of recipes and especially making pasta from scratch. Yet Damato manages all that, nails her lines and generally charms the entire audience with her warm smile, self-deprecating wit and entertaining stories about awful ex-boyfriends and the meals she cooked to win their hearts.
Playwright Jacques Lamarre’s “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” of course, is based on the hit memoir/cookbook by writer Giulia Melucci. Both works bring to life Melucci’s quest for love and the perfect meal.
Under Michael Marotta’s expert direction, this Florida Rep production takes place in a working kitchen with a stove, a hand-cranked pasta maker, a sink with running water and classy décor including abstract art and a shiny metal wall sculpture made of forks, spoons and knives. The set was the last creation by late Florida Rep set designer Bruce R. Bailey.
Damato is the only actor onstage, but she completely captivates the audience from the moment she steps behind the counter and starts pouring red wine for herself and her guests. She’s cute, she’s confident, she’s funny, and you can’t help but wonder: “Why has this lovely woman had so much trouble with men? She’s a catch!”
But trouble she’s had, and Giulia dishes all about it, showing off trophies from her drawer of “mementos from failed relationships,” telling stories, taking phone calls from her haranguing mother and doing less-than-flattering impersonations of her exes.
Those boyfriends include an alcoholic who didn’t like food (definitely a problem when you’re trying to win a man’s heart through his stomach); a smart, repressed Jewish man she describes as “my very own Jeff Goldblum”; a much-older man with a siren-like voice that sounds like Charles Nelson Reilly; and a “hot Scot” writer with a sexy accent and a best friend who just happens to be an ice cream scoop named “Scoopy.”
Wrapped up in all those stories are also stories of the food she made in a desperate attempt to win their love and get married, including “morning after” pumpkin bread, a Seder dinner (from scratch) and — of course — spaghetti.
In Giulia’s world, cooking is how you show people you love them.
“You know how we Italians are,” she tells us at the beginning of the show. “When we have things to work out, we work them out in the kitchen.”
The story is admittedly thin — really just one bad boyfriend and good meal after the other — but Damato makes it all work with an expressive face, adorable smile, lively personality and an easy way around the kitchen.
And even when Damato is busy kneading dough and feeding long swaths through a pasta machine, she still manages to deliver all her lines with lots of heart and personality.
She did flub her lines a few times during this recent show — it didn’t help that a phone alarm kept going off in the audience and one woman was snoring in Act 1 — but she recovered nicely and the flubs actually added to the realism. If we really were sitting in Giulia’s kitchen, she’d probably stumble from time to time, too, as she juggled cooking and entertaining.
All in all, I spent a delightful evening in Giulia’s kitchen, despite my rumbling stomach. She’s a warm, funny host, and I’d accept her dinner invitation any time.