Larisa Oleynik stars in "I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, adapted by Jacques Lamarre from Giulia Melucci’s memoir; directed by Michael Barakiva, starring Larisa Oleynik. At the Hangar Theatre through June 25.

The word “special” is overused, but something truly special is happening to kick off the Hangar Theatre’s 42nd season. When was the last time you went to the theatre and smelled the aromas of really fine cooking?

In the one-woman show I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, adapted by Jacques Lamarre from Giulia Melucci’s memoir, Larisa Oleynik (10 Things I Hate About You, Mad Men) bustles around an elegant and well-appointed kitchen (built like a set for a Food Network show by scenic designer Ken Goldstein) to songs by the Police and Cyndi Lauper from the moment the audience walks in. The kitchen setting is made dramatic with a sweet backdrop depicting a reflecting view of the NYC skyline rendered with tomato cans, olive jars and wine bottles.

Oleynik as Melucci tells us tales of true love and the kitchen as she prepares a three-course meal – antipasto, salad and homemade pasta—for eight lucky patrons seated at four special stage-side tables,

And when I say homemade, we see Oleynik measure out pasta flour, crack eggs and later, roll out and process a tidy pile of noodles; one of the lucky eight even gets to get onstage and crank the pasta maker.

I’ve had a lot of food service jobs, and it’s a lot like the Jon Favreau movie Chef; you get burned from time to time, and every once in a while you go to the emergency room. As I sat waiting for the show to start, watching Oleynik in her element even before the show starts, I kept thinking of that classic SNL sketch where Dan Aykroyd as Julia Child “cuts the dickens” out of her finger and bleeds to death on the air.

There’s nothing to fear here; I can think of lots of actors who could tell all the stories in the show, but could they be as good as Oleynik is at all the foodie stuff? The comingling spell of theatre and food makes you see things you might not notice in another show: in the black out at the end of Act One, you can see the coal-orange glow of the stove burner in the dark. After all, pasta water waits for no man, not even intermission.

The show opens with Oleynik as Melucci on her cell phone talking to her mother. This will be a recurrent theme as she gets down to her foodie business and opens up her love life for us to examine. I’d say it took Oleynik about seven minutes to completely win the audience over with her litany of stories about the boyfriends over the years that might have been more.

Her stories sure sounded like the stories I heard from my female friends as they got into the work force after college and started looking for Mr. Right. When she posed a question and asked “Is that too much to ask?” the woman sitting next to me answered “No!” When the audience talks back, you’ve got their attention, and Oleynik kept it up for more than two hours (and a 15-minute intermission for the pasta water to come to a boil) and a well-deserved standing ovation.

On the way out, I spoke to a few of the eight diner-viewers down front, and they confirmed that the food was, like the performance, delicious. • 

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