By Diana Insolio

Antoinette LaVecchia ought to win a Superwoman award for her performance in I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, premiering at TheaterWorks in Hartford. She delivers a dynamic performance in this one-woman show while cooking a pasta dinner -- from scratch -- and then serving it up to theatergoers seated at front-row tables. Although LaVecchia appears unfazed by the demands of this double-tasking, it arouses in us the same sympathy we feel for the character she plays. That would be Giulia, a 37-year-old Brooklyn native who can't stop cooking delicious meals for each of the clueless blokes she falls in love with in her search for someone to marry. We want to listen. We want to ask what we can do to help.


Directed by Rob Ruggiero and adapted by Jacques Lamarre from Giulia Melucci's memoir of the same name, the play takes place in Giulia's simple but attractive kitchen, as she describes to us the often hilarious details of her failed love relationships, makes pasta, and fields telephone calls from her inquisitive mother. There's Kit, who shares Giulia's love of literature and art but, alas, enjoys ingesting calories only in the form of alcohol; Ethan, a Jewish writer and producer for MTV who loves her and her succulent pot roast but just can't bring himself to take the leap into marriage; Marcus, the aging Vespa-riding cartoonist for The New Yorker, 20 years her senior, who leaves her high and dry for an even younger woman; and, finally, Lachlan, the Scottish writer who loves her eggplant parmesan and grills her repeatedly about marriage but, in the end, decides to leave her for Italy. There is also the pickle seller, the beatnik, and a brief return to celibacy and the local Catholic Church, where she cooks some fabulous meals for parish council meetings before falling for yet another guy.


Some readers of the book have interpreted Giulia as a woman who attracts losers because she lacks self-confidence. But Giulia has a healthy appreciation for her own intellect, her budding literary career, and her culinary skills. She cooks because she loves good food and the communal environment it creates, and because it makes her feel sexy. She can't help it if she is in the grip of the biological/cultural imperative that is the cruel joke of adulthood for even the most well-educated of heterosexual women, i.e., the uncontrollable urge to build a nest and populate it after engaging in the ceremonial commitment that, ironically, terrifies men in the throes of their own imperative to populate and run.


LaMarre's playscript and Ruggiero's direction succeed in creating a theatrical framework for this entertaining story without losing the tone and ambience of the book. The simple but dynamic set by John Coyne places the action in a well-appointed kitchen flanked by large photographs evoking apartment windows overlooking the city skyline. Unfortunately, in both the adaptation and the book, Giulia's reportage occasionally borders on the mundane, and we feel like good friends who have listened a bit too long to our witty hostess. But those moments pass quickly in the able hands of  LaVecchia, who delivers her lines with such vibrancy that we can't help but track her every word, anxious to know how this story ends.


I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT 860-527-7838. www.theaterworkshartford.org. Through July 8th .

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