Who’s story are you really telling? What rehearsed story do you recite when asked, “So, tell me something about yourself?” What story do you go to, to explain, to illuminate, to showcase, to hide? How do you see yourself?
In Orietta Crispino’s new solo series, Let Me Cook For You, she explores what it means to play the protagonist in her own story. Her story is one laced with grief, love, desire and of course, as an Italian woman raised by Italian women, food.
The enticing image at the show’s opening is of the backside of a sleeping woman, dressed in a form-fitting black shirt and skirt, perfectly opposing the white backdrop as she’s draped over the kitchen counter, one black high heel on and the other off. A jolt awakens her. After she surveys the room, making eye contact with her audience of an intimate fifteen, her story begins from the dreaming state of mother and/or from the waking state of daughter. Never performed for or talked at, this personal piece invites the audience to examine alongside Ms. Crispino, where the stories and myths from her past end and where her own personal, constructed identity begins.
The stark, crisp and minimalist space with bare bulb lighting feels like an interrogation room, where the person in question is herself and her hand-me-down stories collected from her mother, grandmother, aunts and her own flawed memories. All these women live inside her, and all these women contribute to the “truth” as she was told. After her mother ‘s failed suicide attempt while pregnant with her, Orietta was raised in her early years by her grandmother and aunts, while her single mother worked as an aesthetician in Genoa, Italy. Her mother’s work afforded Orietta an education and a desire to have things appear beautiful. The white dropped paper upstage is used as this performer’s teaching aid, where she writes numbers, words, and dates, guiding the audience through her story’s construction.
This story’s protagonist is left in a vacuum of desire, a “desire that can never be fulfilled” due to the absence of her mother. And under the skillful direction of Barbara Rubin, this insatiable hunger for the truth, this desire for self knowledge, is mirrored in the constant activity of food preparation and cooking. True to the show’s title, Ms. Crispino cooks for us – the stage transforms into kitchen, from its single burner to its wok, and the script transforms into discourse, where the hostess casually converses about a forever altering life incident.
More like a moving art piece, Let Me Cook For You, while sharing a snap shot of one woman’s collection of myths, simultaneously nudges the audience, with its rhythmic pacing of narration and direct audience address and participation, to question what stories we’ve been told that upon closer examination feel expired or inauthentic.
The show’s end is unclear. There is no applause, there is no curtain call. It just diffuses into audience members talking with themselves as Ms. Crispino and an assistant distribute food and drinks. And just like that Ms. Crispino transitions back into the artistic director of Theatrelab, ensuring all were enjoying themselves and had their fill. And it was this transition, an ending that seems to be no ending at all, that harkend back to the image of the sleeping woman on the kitchen counter, questioning where mother ends and daughter begins.