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Comfort food - ‘I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti’

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Comfort food - ‘I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti’ (Photo © magnus stark, 2017 )

Penobscot Theatre Company presents fun, heartfelt one-woman show

BANGOR – A bounteous feast of a love story is being served at Penobscot Theatre Company.

PTC’s latest offering is “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” a one-woman show based on author Giulia Melucci’s memoir of the same name and adapted for the stage by Jacques Lamarre. The show – running through May 14 at the Bangor Opera House – is directed by Michael Marotta and stars Michelle Damato.

It’s the story of one woman’s romantic journey – a journey inextricably linked to food. For each of the great loves in her life, she regales us with how things began, how they ended and what they ate along the way.

Oh, and she cooks. And let me be clear - she REALLY cooks, as in prepares a three-course meal right before your eyes and serves it to a lucky handful who are seated on the stage as guests in her kitchen.

Michell Damato is Giulia, an energetic go-getter who works in the publishing world and absolutely loves to cook. However, her other loves – her interpersonal loves – are rarely as easily handled as the recipes she tackles in her safe haven of a kitchen, even when she succumbs to inevitable temptation and cooks for her beaus.

Giulia is preparing dinner – a main course of spaghetti Bolognese preceded by an antipasto plate and a green salad – as she ticks off her checklist of ill-fated relationships. From the commitment-phobic to the alcoholic, from the too-old to the too-young to the too-damn full of themselves, we’re treated to the tale of each relationship and the impact that it had on her – impact marked by a drawer full of souvenirs.

And through it all, she bustles through her kitchen and preps the meal – chops and opens and boils and rolls and pounds and stretches and so on. She serves her guests amidst soul-baring stories and, through it all, maintains an indefatigable spirit and conscientiousness.

“I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” is a sweet and engaging show, one rendered more conversational than most simply by virtue of the presence of audience members on the stage. There’s a wonderful joy to it, an unwavering positivity that is barely, rarely shaken.

Now, the stories themselves are certainly entertaining, but it is Damato who truly breathes life into them. Her Giulia is almost defiantly spunky, with a wide smile a nigh-constant presence on her face. And she is absolutely magnetic, exuding an effortless comfort and charisma that allows her complete command over the Opera House, a room large enough to thwart the efforts of a less-gifted single performer.

One-person shows are HARD. Even capturing an audience’s full attention when alone on stage is difficult, let alone maintaining it for any length of time. What Damato does is made all the more impressive by the simplicity of it; she is telling these stories to her friends – and in that moment, we are indeed her friends. She charms and coos and occasionally snarks and just engages utterly.

And lest we forget, she’s doing all of this while making spaghetti Bolognese from scratch. She cooks the sauce, makes fresh pasta, the whole shebang – from scratch. Her cooking efforts make a surprisingly potent backdrop to her tales of love and loss, even assisting in the odd moment of emotional punctuation.

(It’s at this point that I note that I was lucky enough to be one of the people seated and served onstage. It is a fascinating vantage point from which to experience this show, a close-up view of the complicated dance of the thing. There are moments when it all falls away and you’re just sitting in a friend’s kitchen with a plate of pasta while she vents about her love life. It’s a GREAT seat.)

(Oh, and just in case you’re wondering – the food is delicious.)

Director Michael Marotta has done a good work in capturing the intimacy of the kitchen comfort zone while accounting for the size and openness of the space. The balance between broad choices and small ones is well-struck, serving to bring the audience in closer rather than pushing the show out wider; smart, sharp direction also explains the fact that the show’s two-hour runtime blinks by surprisingly quickly. The show is driven by what feels like a rich collaborative energy between director and performer.

The PTC design team continues to shine with this production. I mean … they built a kitchen on the stage. A functioning kitchen. Scenic designer Tricia Hobbs has put together a tastefully-appointed kitchen look, one that wouldn’t be out of place in the apartment of any relatively well-heeled urban foodie. Scout Hough’s lighting design engages, capturing the sense of kitchen track lighting perfectly while also making bold choices in the interludes. Katie Guzzi’s sound design is effective, as are Alexandria Vazquez’s costume design and Meredith Perry’s properties work.

“I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” is a show about past love and pasta love, about one woman’s life’s experience with romance, food and the surprisingly large overlap between the two. It is a delicious theatrical dish that you will almost certainly savor.

(For tickets or more information about this show – including the availability of the limited onstage seating – visit penobcottheatre.org or contact the box office at 942-3333.) 

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