In March of 2012, TheaterWorks Hartford served up the world premiere of “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” a lively stage adaptation of a memoir by Giulia Melucci. Each chapter in the book covers a different romantic problem in Melucci’s single life, and each chapter ends with an Italian food recipe that helped her get through it.
To translate that blend of love and cuisine for the stage, TheaterWorks had the actress playing Melucci, Antoinette LaVecchia, cook a meal while she poured her heart out about lost loves.
Now LaVecchia is cooking on the TheaterWorks stage once more. “Secondo,” running July 29 through Aug. 28, is the sequel to “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” though there’s no book to draw from this time. The new play is based on interviews with Melucci about her life since she wrote the book. She no longer has dating problems, as she’s now happily married. “Secondo” concerns an ex-boyfriend who intrudes in her settled home life. Yes, cooking is involved.
In an attempt to maintain the literary memoir’s original storytelling style, The Courant sent a few questions to the theater-making trio who cooked up “...Spaghetti” in the first place, and who have reunited after a decade to revisit Melucci’s story:
Director Rob Ruggiero, who became TheaterWorks’ interim artistic director in 2011, just months before he directed “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.” The show gave TheaterWorks a homegrown hit as a critical transitional time in the theater’s history. He was made the theater’s producing artistic director in 2013.
Hartford-area playwright Jacques Lamarre, who has gone on to write numerous other plays, some of which are also one-person shows involving food. His adaptation of Chef Rossi’s memoir “Raging Skillet” premiered at TheaterWorks in 2017. Lamarre also wrote two of the scenes in TheaterWorks’ holiday staple “Christmas on the Rocks.”
The star of this one-person show, LaVecchia, who went on to play Giulia at several other theaters after TheaterWorks. Her Broadway credits include the 2010 revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” and the 2018 revival of Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song.” She’s performed at many of the country’s major regional theaters, from the Williamstown Theatre Festival to the McCarter Theater and the Old Globe. She returned to TheaterWorks in 2018 for “The Laramie Project” and appeared at Hartford Stage last year in Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” She played Lucia Francavella in the recent reboot of the sitcom “Mad About You,” and her many film roles range from the thriller “Deliver Us From Evil” to the sensitive drama “The David Dance” and the cult classic “Jesus’ Son.”
Here, edited for brevity and clarity, are couple of the team’s seasoned, delectable responses:
How did this sequel come about?
Rob Ruggiero: With audience hesitation still very much a hurdle — and facing a very expensive summer production of [Madeleine George’s radical Greek myth update] “Hurricane Diane” we decided to make a change, which made both economical and marketing sense. It was also the 10th anniversary of “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.” I reached out to Jacques and began a conversation about how we could make it happen this summer. It all grew from there. I couldn’t be more excited to revisit this character in this moment. It really is like visiting an old friend in her kitchen. I hope our audience will feel that same warmness.
Antoinette LaVecchia: Rob and Jacques and I had breakfast last fall while I was in Hartford doing “Ah, Wilderness!” at Hartford Stage, and we talked about the idea of this sequel possibly happening. I thought it was a fun idea and told Rob that if I was available I would do it in a heartbeat. Bringing the team back together feels like a family reunion. There is great affection and love and respect. I feel a tremendous responsibility to bring all of myself to my work, especially when I’m playing a character based on a real person. I’ve always wanted to do right by the lovely and gifted Giulia Melucci — we have some pretty remarkable synchronicities around this show and our families, which makes me feel that she and I were destined to be in each other’s lives.
Jacques Lamarre: At the time of the original production, Giulia had said she was thinking of writing a second memoir called “What to Expect When You Are Not Expecting” that would explore what it’s like to be a recently married woman with no intention of having children. We kicked around some ideas, but the memoir and the play never got off the ground. After Rob contacted me about the sequel, Giulia and I decided what we really wanted to explore was marriage itself. The first play was about Giulia’s search for her husband, but the audience knows nothing about the man she eventually marries.
Shortly before the play premiered, Giulia and I both got married. Antoinette connected with her now-husband at the end of the “... Spaghetti” tour in 2014. Tracy Brigden, our dramaturg and a former coworker from Hartford Stage, also got married during this time. We all married in our forties and are now in our 50s. Emotionally, we’re all in the same place. Our rehearsal discussions are as much about our marriages as they are about the play and food.
“Secondo” has been a lot harder to write, not only because there was no road map, but because I think we all have different things we want to say about marriage. It’s very facile to say “marriage is hard work.” I think we all have different views of how difficult or easy marriage can be. I think there are a lot of particulars to Giulia’s story, but I think we hit on universal truths about the blessings and challenges of marriage.
What impact did the first show have on you?
LaVecchia: I’ve never played a character over the course of eight months before — two months in 2012 and then six months in 2014. Being able to play Giulia in “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” over such a long period of time was an extraordinary lesson in trusting myself. I’ve done many one-person shows in my career, but this one was extraordinary in that I had to feed 8 to 10 people each night on top of everything else I was doing, and that forced me to be in the moment — I could never not be fully present. I also grew tremendously in the character over those many months and achieved a relaxation on stage as Giulia that was revelatory.
Lamarre: “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” was huge for me. At that point, I had some one-acts produced and a very stripped-down professional production of my first full-length play, “Gray Matters.” Rob took an enormous risk in allowing me to create a new play at a very pivotal moment in the company’s history. I had been writing for drag performer Varla Jean Merman for about eight years at that point, but those are comedy cabaret shows. The 2012 production of “...Spaghetti” was my first blown-out, full-on production of a play and I think the success of it startled all of us.
Over the past 10 years, the show has had 13 or so productions in various parts of the country. Even during the pandemic, there was a virtual production in Indiana and an in-person production for nightly audiences of 12 in Texas. My other memoir-with-food play, “Raging Skillet,” has had about five productions and there’s discussion about bringing it to off-Broadway. Seven Angels Theatre [in Waterbury] has become a second artistic home for me having done three of my plays with a fourth one, “Italian Mom Loves You!,” opening just two weeks after “Secondo” opens in Hartford. I am excessively lucky as a playwright to be having this much work at this time, and I owe it all to pasta and a drag queen.
Ruggiero: For me as director and producing artistic director, it was a different journey. Jacques and I have an even bigger shorthand these days. We trust each other more, so that allows more space for support and creativity. He has welcomed my opinions into the writing process. Giula and he have curated and navigated the journey from memory/truth and making it have dramatic actions and theatricality. Antoinette was also at the table as we rehearse and find our way to opening night. It’s a great table to sit at!
The one area where I have very little input is the food. You try being French-Canadian and tell people with names like Ruggiero, LaVecchia and Melucci how to cook Italian food. I picked the menu items that are being prepared because I want them to be visually interesting to watch and smell delicious. After that, the Italians take over and fight over who has the best recipe.
“Secondo” plays at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, July 29 to Aug. 28. More information at twhartford.org.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at email@example.com.