Jenny Levison is no stranger to preparing food for hungry Atlantans. As the woman behind Souper Jenny, she has been doing so for years.
But in a newly opened show at Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Levison combines her two loves: cooking and acting.
She stars in the theater’s production of “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” which opened last week. An adaptation of Giulia Melucci’s 2010 memoir by the same title, it’s all about good food and bad boyfriends.
>> Jenny Levison and Rachel May sat down to talk with WABE’s Lois Reitzes on “City Lights.” Listen to the interview above.
For nearly two hours, Levison commands the stage in the one-woman show while the script takes twists and turns through the character’s failed adventures of love.
Her only acting partners are the eight lucky audience members seated at tables near the wings. During the course of the show, Levison prepares and serves them antipasto, salad and spaghetti Bolognese made with fresh pasta.
Director Rachel May said she hopes the crowd feels purely delighted after seeing the show. And at Sunday’s matinee performance, the audience seemed to be eating it up.
“First and foremost, it’s just a delightful experience. Jenny is utterly charming and really funny and open and honest,” May said. “So you’re going to feel like you’ve spent two hours with your best pal dishing over the kitchen table while they’re cooking a meal. So that’s just really lovely.”
And even though Levison cooks for a living — she’ll open her fifth Souper Jenny location later this year in Roswell — pasta was a new challenge.
“First thing I had to do was learn how to make pasta because I had never done it before,” said Levison, who was approached by the theater about seven months ago to do the show.
But on stage, Levison is completely convincing as the Brooklyn-raised, love-seeking, Italian-American publicist she is portraying.
“Not only is she having to cook during the play, which in itself would be challenging, but people eat it. And she’s Souper Jenny so she also wants to make sure it’s really good. Other actors who are not also chefs I think would be happy if food arose in any condition,” May said.
“But for Jenny, she has that added layer of really knowing what is going to make it taste delicious and that’s her reputation as well.”
Levison isn’t new to the stage. She attended Carnegie Mellon School of Drama and has appeared in other shows locally — including “Calendar Girls” at Georgia Ensemble Theatre a couple years back, but this show was a different challenge.
“Making fresh pasta is a really fiddly business until you get it down and then having to do it at a particular timing while you’re also telling stories and keeping the energy and the timing of the play going is really tough,” May said.
“Anytime when we were rehearsing early on, something strange would happen with the food. You could see her cooking brain take over and. I started talking to her about the fact that she has to kind of put her cooking brain on a subprogram so that the dominant program is her acting brain.”
But those kinks appear to have all been worked out. And now, the team behind the “Spaghetti” show hopes audiences will leave feeling full.
“I hope they come and have a great time and some good belly laughs,” Levison said. “I just want them to come and be purely entertained.”
“I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” is showing at the Georgia Ensemble Theatre at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center until Nov. 11.