Twenty minutes into Penobscot Theatre Company’s current offering, “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” I prayed Gloria Steinem would burst through the doors of the Bangor Opera House, march down the aisle, onto the stage, smack Guilia Melucci up the side of the head and shout: “Snap out of it!”
The novelty of an actress actually cooking and preparing a meal on stage wears off very quickly as Melucci, portrayed by Michelle Damato, drones on for two acts about the men who got away. The play, adapted by Jacques Lamarre from Melucci’s 2008 memoir, should have kept the subtitle of the book — “A Memoir of Good Food and Bad Boyfriends” — to warn theatergoers about what that to expect.
Melucci was born in 1966, not 1956, and worked at Harper’s, Vanity Fair and Spy magazines. She also worked for Scribner and Viking, both New York publishing houses. In other words, the woman has a CAREER. So, why can she only talk to the audience about not being able to catch and marry Prince Charming? Surely, she’s met some fascinating people in her work to tell stories about. People she encountered on book tours would have been more interesting.
“I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” might have been a little easier to tolerate if it were a 70- to 90-minute one act, but two acts is an act too long — unless the entire audience gets to eat. During each show, four couples sit on the edge of the stage and are served a meal of antipasto, salad and freshly made spaghetti with bolognese sauce and wine or water over the course of the show.
At $60 a couple plus the cost of tickets to the show, the food may be worth it, but the subject of the show is not. While Melucci’s stories of her childhood growing up in Brooklyn, the impact her father’s death at an early age had on the family and how she learned to cook in her mother’s kitchen are fascinating. The men in her life are dull and predictable, except for the Scotsman, who doesn’t stick around long enough to save the show let alone the cook.
Damato, who has played the role previously, works hard at charming the audience but no actress could rise above this much bad material. She gives a likable performance but Guilia seems to have no insight into why she latches onto such losers.
Although it’s not in the show, she did eventually marry Englishman Gavin Smith in 2012, according to the New York Times.
The actress’ ability to converse with the audience and cook at the same time is amazing. It is fascinating to watch her make pasta from scratch and run the dough through a device temporarily attached to the granite countertop. The smells and sounds of the bubbling sauce and the boiling water are delightfully tempting.
Tricia Hobbs’ set is a dream kitchen on stage. Theatergoers who have not updated their kitchens in more than 30 years ago, including this one, drooled over the gorgeous and spacious countertops along with brand spanking new appliances on the stage. Scout Hough’s lighting design lit the spacious kitchen up with virtual sunshine and let all the set pieces sparkle.
Producing Artistic Director Bari Newport’s decision to stage “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” challenged her technical staff but not her audience. Perhaps, she hoped the show would draw a young adult audience as “Rock of Ages” did last year and “The Rocky Horror Show” did in 2014. Maybe Newport figured the foodies would be intrigued to see a meal cooked on stage and buy tickets.
Whatever her reasoning, the gamble doesn’t appear to be paying off. The theater was about half full Sunday afternoon and audience members, including this one, appeared mostly to be over the age of 60.
Theatrical gimmicks have given old plays new life. In 2001, playwright Mary Zimmerman introduced the Greek myths of Ovid to a new audience by putting a swimming pool on stage in “Metamorphoses.” Sometimes, a new theater gimmick is fun in and of itself, but cooking on stage is not enough to sustain an audience’s interest if the cook’s stories aren’t more compelling than Melucci’s are.
“I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” runs through May 14. For tickets, call the PTC box office at 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.
Editor’s Note: The Bangor Daily News is sponsor of the Penobscot Theatre Company.