I used to believe the classic night out was dinner and a show – preferable a live performance at one of Sarasota’s local venues. But this past Saturday night Mart and I had a truly unique dining experience. . . “Dinner IN a Show!” And, as far as I know, the only way to experience “Dinner IN a Show” is at the Asolo’s latest comedy “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” based on the book of the same name by Giulia Melucci. Iron Chef Mario Batali describes the show as “A Foodie’s dream version of Sex and the City.” Need we, mere mortals, say more?
Mart and I were fortunate to attend the final dress rehearsal, where the oh-so-very-loveable Giulia, played by the uber-talented Antoinette LaVecchia, recounts the highs and lows of her love life, all while serving up dinner for her friends.
At the opening of the show Giulia is a bit nervous. She suspects tonight’s date will be special, and she’s a bit anxious, no help from her equally anxious Italian mother who calls her, over and over, throughout the one woman show. “Yes, Mama. I’m wearing a nice dress.” “Yes, Mama, I’m going to wear my hair down.” Giulia’s relationship with her mother is brilliantly illustrated by the ringtone she assigns her mom on her cell phone . . .a phone she buries in a kitchen drawer to get some peace. When you hear the dial tone she picked . . . well . . . I don’t want to ruin it for you.
Cooking for other people, Giulia explains, is how she stays calm. It’s also, we learn over the course of the show, how she lands a man – at least in the earlier part of her life. Sound familiar anyone? And while learning how one dish suits a particular suitor or a particular romantic challenge in her life, Giulia hones her cooking skills. This is no “eat a quart of Häagen-Daz when you’re distraught” kind of girl. Whether Giulia is excited, happy, in love, confused, heartbroken, disgusted, concerned, or — in the case of tonight — nervous, she heads to the kitchen and whips out the Italian recipes of her mama. Mama may drive Giulia crazy, but boy, she’s taught her some skills!
Actor Antoinette LaVecchia had the challenge of not only bringing the character of Giulia to life, but also helping us understand why (oh why?!) her various boyfriends, Steve, Kip, Ethan, Marcus and Lachlan, ever appealed to her in the first place. When describing the men who litter the backstory of her love life, Antoinette’s masterful facial expressions, body language, humor and foreign accents actually brought to mind men I know myself! Every man, she explains, is a food type. . . “You’re Broiled Cod in Sherry and Capers” she described one male patron in the audience. “And you, sir, you’re definitely Spaghetti Puttanesca! Am I right?” she asks the patron’s wife, who nods in affirmation. Giulia describes ex-boyfriend Ethan as “a Jeff Goldblum type just radiating repression. Repressed people remind me a of tray of hot, bubbling lasagna.” Giulia explains. Oh joy! What Italian girl could resist a guy like that?
Throughout the show, Antoinette is whipping up a three course Italian meal, which is where the “Dinner IN a Show” reference starts from. The stage of the Asolo’s Cook Theatre was converted into a working kitchen, with a sink, work space and induction cooktop. Included on the stage are five two-top café tables that can be reserved for an additional $35 per ticket, guaranteeing that you’ll not only enjoy the aroma of Giulia’s Spaghetti Bolognase as it starts wafting through the theatre, but you’ll taste it too. An additional four patrons seated on stage can enjoy wine and cheese. Believe me, dear Foodies. . . you want to be on stage for this magical experience! Whatever you do, I suggest you don’t come hungry. The aromas will have you craving a spot up front.
Starting with a wonderful antipasti of marinated olives, Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, sweet dried sausage, artichoke heats and prosciutto, Giulia(Antoinette) serves each table, pouring each of us a light Chianti, before heading back to her Bolognese sauce. Telling the story of her love life, Giulia opens cans of tomatoes, answering a call from mama . . . “Yes, Mom, I am using the Italian tomatoes.” (as she opens the second can – this one from Del Monte, wink, wink) slicing celery, carrots, garlic, Italian parsley and chops onions (without tears!!) all while thoroughly engaging the audience and rarely looking at her hands. Wicked knife skills must have be a criteria at the audition. Eyes that don’t tear up while cutting onions? How do you cast for that?
All through the show, Giulia describes the various meals she made for the important men in her life. From “First-Date Butterflies Farfalle” to a “No Nookie Gnocchi” dinner, to “Impress an Older Gentleman Flank Steak” and on to her “Calming Coq au Vin,” Giulia shares her intimate belief that her handcrafted meals would somehow nurture and heal her relationships. Her mention of “Lachlan’s Last Supper Pork Loin” tells us that hasn’t been the case. If it wasn’t so darn funny, it would be tragically sad!
After serving us a crisp mixed green salad with olive oil, champagne vinegar and fresh lemon zest, Giulia clears her countertop and pulls out a large bowl of flour, two brown eggs and a cup of water. “Don’t tell me she’s going to make the pasta from scratch!” I whisper to Mart. This actor, this wonderfully Italian Antoinette LaVecchia starts making fresh spaghetti . . .be still my beating heart! Nothing could impress me more, except, maybe making risotto. Giulia’s thought on that subject is covered in the show.
With expert hands she pour out a pile of flour – somehow just enough for 10 guests – and makes a small indention in the middle. Crack! One egg goes into the flour as Giulia describes the stress of finding a photograph of her boyfriend’s previous, younger girlfriend at his apartment. Crack, there goes the other, as she pours her passion, her strength into kneading the dough by hand, describing how the relationship was headed in the wrong direction, no matter how well she’d treated him. Bam! She smacks her fist into the dough. “Can you believe him?” Bam! She punches and prods the dough – the perfect foil for taking out her frustration. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d had it!” she said. I’m pretty sure the dough was convinced. . .
If somehow you think I’ve revealed too much of the “recipe” for success of this show; trust me. It’s impossible! Mart and I would like each of you to experience the fun and foodie fascination of seeing Antoinette bring Giulia to life amidst the myriad of perfectly-timed pop culture references that director Rob Ruggiero works into the show. “I Loved, I Lost, I made Spaghetti” was a doubly delicious experience for your SarasotaFoodies. While we certainly adored Antoinette’s characterization of Giulia, we couldn’t help but be also absolutely mesmerized by her ability to pull together such a delicious meal without missing a beat. Homemade pasta? Are you kidding me?
Giulia is such a wonderful, fun character, you so want her to be happy in the end. You can’t help but wonder . . .Who does she have a date with tonight? Is it one of these losers? Could one of them have wised up and somehow turned his life around? If you want to know, you’ll have to go yourself. But get your tickets soon. “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” runs from May 21-June 15, 2014, with only limited seats available for dining patrons. We’ve provided a link to the Asolo’s website so you can get tickets, as well as the phone number to the ticket office.
This is absolutely a one-of-a-kind night out! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! You couldn’t ask for (a)more.