I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti gives new meaning to the term "dinner theater," as audiences at George Street Playhouse can now enjoy a comical, heartfelt, one-woman show while being served a meal made right in front of them — by the star herself. Antoinette LaVecchia (Broadway's recent A View From the Bridge) prepares a three-course Italian spread and serves it to lucky members of her audience while taking on the persona of Giulia Melucci, on whose memoir Spaghetti is based. LaVecchia, who is reviving the role after having served up a success at Hartford's Theaterworks in 2012, gave TheaterMania a taste of the similarities between her and Melucci's love lives and Italian-American histories.
Director Rob Ruggiero had you in mind for this show before casting began. Why did he think you'd be perfect for Spaghetti?
We had worked together before, and he said he just couldn't stop thinking about me when he got this project. It's about a woman in her forties who can't find a man. Rob had also seen my one-woman show [How to Be a Good Italian Daughter (In Spite of Myself)] that I wrote about me and my immigrant, Italian mom and our conflict after I got divorced.
What type of experience do you have as a cook?
I used to make homemade pasta as a kid with my mom. Because my mother began cooking when she was eight years old, she has no patience. Her instinct is so fast, she doesn't measure anything. But Rob and I had a lot of fun comparing notes on what his Italian grandmother did. A homemade sauce is very specific. It's like your mother's milk. You don't like other people's sauces as much as your own mother's.
I don't consider myself to be a fancy-shmancy cook, but by the end of Spaghetti's run in Hartford I could have opened a five-star restaurant…serving only one meal. The irony is that I'm allergic to gluten and dairy. I can't even eat the pasta that I make onstage.
How does having to cook a meal for people during the show create an added challenge to telling Giulia's story?
It is the hardest thing I've ever done, because you are the entertainment, you are the cook, you are the waiter, you're everything. You worry! There are ten people who pay extra to eat everything you make. We were so successful in Hartford that audiences would come back multiple times. I would get these bizarre compliments like, "Your knife skills are excellent." I have to say I have never gotten quite that specific of a compliment in my life after a performance.
What is one of your favorite anecdotes from Giulia's dating life?
One of my favorites is about Marcus. She dates a man twenty years her senior and he kind of has a voice like Charles Nelson Reilly. When telling the story, she says, "I've come a long way in the past ten years. I went from wanting boys to kiss me on my father's stoop to kissing men my father's age on my own stoop." I love that line so much.
How does your own dating history compare with that of Giulia's?
We are so similar, but she got married right before we opened the show almost two years ago. I was married very young and I got divorced about fourteen years ago. As for the past fourteen years, the play might as well be my life! I didn't live with many men after my ex-husband. It's been a series of disappointment after disappointment. I do tell stories of my dating and make people laugh, just like Giulia.
How do you think your upbringing is reflected in Spaghetti?
We immigrated to Connecticut when I was a little girl. I grew up in a really affluent, very Aryan community and we were so ethnic. My dad was a caretaker of a 400-acre estate. We were so isolated on this enormous piece of land. My dad made wine downstairs, my mom made homemade pasta and bread upstairs, we had vegetable gardens, and we didn't have neighbors. I'd go home to Italy, and then I'd go to school in America. It was bizarre. Like Giulia, I have the Italian culture but I was overeducated in America. I always have one foot in Italy and one foot in America, but I can't call either my real home. I think one of the reasons I became an actor is that it feels comfortable to be other people. When you straddle two different worlds, they don't really consider that you're from either. It's a gift, though, because it helps you to have compassion.
You have said that your parents weren't too keen on you pursuing acting as a career. Have they seen the show?
They did. The first thing my mom said to me was, "How did you cut that onion while you were talking?" And then my dad's first response was, "How did the spaghetti cook so fast?" (laughs) They still hope I quit theater and become a lawyer. It's been over twenty years, but whatever!