The way to a man’s heart

Denise Summerford stars in I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, directed by Michael Schiralli, running at Half Moon Theatre at The Culinary Institute of America until October 25 (weekends only). During the performance, Summerford whips up a three-course meal from scratch as she riffs spiritedly about past loves lost. (photo by Jennifer Kiaba)

Denise Summerford stars in I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, directed by Michael Schiralli, running at Half Moon Theatre at The Culinary Institute of America until October 25 (weekends only). During the performance, Summerford whips up a three-course meal from scratch as she riffs spiritedly about past loves lost. (photo by Jennifer Kiaba)

Half Moon Theatre stages I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti at CIA in Hyde Park

ow that the Marriott Pavilion Theatre on the campus of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park has become the home base of Poughkeepsie’s Half Moon Theatre company, the oven-mitt gauntlet has been thrown down: How many plays can the collaborating institutions produce that revolve thematically around food, or better yet, require actual onstage cooking? Half Moon’s fall season has found one comedy candidate that precisely fits the bill: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, adapted by Jacques Lamarre from Giulia Melucci’s eponymous best-selling, recipe-studded memoir. Directed by Michael Schiralli, it opened last Friday and runs weekends through October 25.

Described as “Rachael Ray meets Sex in the City,” I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti is an entertaining bit of froth about a young professional woman in New York who woos a series of men – two-dimensional losers all – with the traditional Italian cuisine that she learned from her female forebears. Cooking such comfort food is how she consoles herself as well, each time a promising romantic relationship deflates. Not once does the script stray near the psychological borders of negative body image and eating disorders that form the dark side of the food = love equation; it’s all in good fun.

Sound like a story that might be laden with ethnic stereotypes? It is, though the only one that direly needs excising from the script is a cringeworthy drunken-Irishman vignette. One ex-boyfriend (the commitment-phobe) teaches Giulia a smattering of Yiddish; another (the freeloader) speaks in a Scottish brogue. The heroine has the requisite big-hearted-but-interfering Italian Mama, who regularly interrupts the show with phone calls that telegraph the play’s ending from the get-go. Meanwhile, Giulia is preparing food for her “guests” – theater patrons willing to spend some extra bucks to sit onstage and actually eat the meal that the Drama Desk Award-winning actress Denise Summerford makes before their eyes – and addressing them directly as she reminisces about her various courtship misfires.

Besides being a novel approach to deconstructing the fourth wall, this play presents several immense challenges to the actress playing Giulia. For starters, it’s a one-woman show – essentially a 56-page monologue. Onstage monologists typically work with material that they wrote themselves, but Summerford had to memorize someone else’s script. The newness of it showed a bit during the press run-through on opening weekend, with the actress periodically having to request a line prompt. But that didn’t seem to matter much, because in her performance, Summerford – descendent of a long line of Italian cooks herself – made the material decidedly her own, with grace, humor and spunk.

The other challenging element that makes this gig truly a tour de force is the need to whip up a three-course meal from scratch and riff spiritedly about past loves lost, all at the same time – transgressing the old “Show, don’t tell” theater rule by telling about one thing while showing another. That includes mixing and kneading handmade pasta dough and cranking it repeatedly through a pasta-making machine for Giulia’s spaghetti Bolognese: a task requiring considerable elbow grease, as anyone who has ever attempted it can attest.

Summerford doesn’t even get winded, chattering on gamely throughout, shooting out eye contact to various parts of the audience even as she’s swiftly chopping onions like a pro. To keep things visually interesting, she has to come out from behind the CIA’s portable cooktop every so often and move around the stage. But the meal still gets made and served, and it looks fabulous. If you go, you might want to think about springing for those onstage-seating tickets ($90 evenings, $75 matinées).

The weakest component of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti is the writing, which relies too heavily on an excess of 1980s pop-culture references to ground the tale in the Manhattan publishing milieu in which Melucci worked as a young woman. Don’t look for profound character development, either, as the narrator apparently learns little from one plunge after another into ill-advised romances with unsuitable men. Still, there’s plenty of matter for levity in Giulia’s misadventures, and if one joke falls flat, there are two better ones right behind it to lift the proceedings to quite an enjoyable level again. Summerford delivers the laugh lines in spades, and doesn’t wallow in rue for long when gullible-but-feisty Giulia’s love life goes awry again.

Entertainmentwise, you can carbo-load at I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti and still walk away with a feeling of lightness. But we all need to treat ourselves to some empty calories now and then, don’t we? Check it out at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, October 16 to 18 and 23 to 25. Tickets for regular seating cost $45 general admission, $40 for seniors and $35 for matinées. To order, call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.halfmoontheatre.org.

 

Half Moon Theatre’s I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, Friday/Saturday, October 16/17, 23/24, 8 p.m., Sunday, October 18 & 25, 2 p.m., $90/$75 with dinner, $45/$40/$35, Marriott Pavilion Theatre, Culinary Institute of America, Route 9, Hyde Park; (800) 838-3006, www.halfmoontheatre.org.

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