Atlanta’s Jenny Levison will hang up her soup ladle—temporarily—to take on the art of pasta-making in the one-woman play, I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, opening October 25 and playing through the November 11 at the Georgia Ensemble Theatre.
The woman behind Souper Jenny is no stranger to acting. Following her time at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, she did soap opera work in New York and in the next few years, split her time between doing theater and working in restaurants before landing back in Atlanta.
“When I first opened Souper Jenny, I was still doing theater at night, and I’d hire my friends that were actors to work with me,” she explains. “That’s how I made the restaurant world work well. Actors have great personalities, which is what you need in the restaurant business.”
Georgia Ensemble Theatre approached her about seven months ago to bring her on board for I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti. Levison made her first appearance with the theater in a production of Calendar Girls about three years ago. “I committed to it right away because it sounded so exciting, and it’s bigger and scarier than I ever imagined,” she says. “This is a new experience for me, and I’m up for the challenge.”
The 90-minute comedy is based on Giulia Melucci’s 2009 book, I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti: A Memoir of Good Food and Bad Boyfriends and stars “Giulia,” a single woman in New York City who shares the harrowing details behind her string of bad dates. The play originally premiered in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2012.
While the character tells the audience the trials and tribulations within her dating life, she also cooks a full meal from scratch on stage, making the show fully interactive. Currently single, Levison says that just like the protagonist, she has plenty of bad dating stories up her sleeve. “Everyone can relate to that,” she laughs.
To prepare for the role, Levison took private lessons from Bella Cucina owner Elisa Barry and Storico Fresco chef Michael Patrick to learn the basics of making pasta from scratch. She says it was a fun challenge, as she’d never dived into the world of pasta-making before but had always bought fresh offerings from both Atlanta restaurants.
On stage she puts her newly-acquired skills to use as she prepares an entire meal live from antipasti to desert—with Bolognese as the main course—for eight lucky audience members seated on stage. During the show, Levison has to both keep up with those audience conversations as well as the timing of her meal.
“That’s been the biggest challenge for me at this point—I have to have the pasta done in a certain time,” says Levison. “I actually have to boil the water in real time. I’m learning that it’s almost like when you try to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time.”
“It’s definitely going to [involve] a little improvisation,” she continues. “If people actually answer [me when] I ask a question or if they’re still eating when it’s time for me to serve the next course. It’s going to be fun and a little different.”
Following the run of her one-woman show, Levison will open her fifth Souper Jenny location in Roswell this December. “We’re really excited about being in that community. Plus, we’re going into our favorite season when it’s cold and soup is on everyone’s mind,” Levison says.