by Elizabeth Ann Foster
Opening night Saturday, September 2, 2022
You are invited to an NYC apartment, and a resident will cook for you.
That is precisely what this show is, an intimate dinner party. It is an evening of bonding, learning, and exploring as Orietta Crispino single-handedly cooks for the audience and tells a version of her story of how she ended up here. She insists it will not be about the past but reading the signs of the future.
The evening begins gathering around the kitchen with the first part of the trilogy Let Me Cook For You. We are introduced to yellow zucchini and other farmer market finds such as purple carrots, and as Crispino slices, she starts to spill her story. It is all done so effortlessly in a crisp white room on a butcher block table covered in white paper.
“I never thought I would be my protagonist in my own story,” Crispino starts and acknowledges you have to look at the characters with compassion.
Hailing from Italy, she takes us on a culinary and couture journey as she grows up and ends up in NYC because she is in love with David Byrne and is planning to come to America to marry him. We listen to his music as she cooks for us. She is priceless. You fall in love with her beauty, wit, food, clothing, and everything “Orietta.”
The audience or, more appropriately, Crispino’s dinner guests are asked to help along the way with the meal. We plate rice, serve and help ourselves to drinks at the open bar.
Crispino admits she never had an accent until she learned English. This self-effacing humor, combined with her deadpan looks, moves the audience as we get drawn closer and closer into her world. One begins to understand her rationale and way of thinking. It’s quirky and refreshing, and like a kaleidoscope, all the “facts” or pieces are shifted around continuously to view things from differing perspectives.
Speaking to Crispino after the show, she said she had not realized how Catholic she was growing up in Italy. She didn’t consider herself religious until she came to America. Many of her stories in the trilogy are religious motifs, right down to the dove bread served traditionally at Easter but made especially for this show by a friend of the artist. As we go along, terms and rituals are explained, so a catechism class is not necessary to grasp the deeper meanings outlined in this production.
Crispino is a great teacher. All the important dates, numbers, and words are written on rolls of paper hanging on the back wall. Each person is given a section of the paper folded to include tidbits from the production, including a reproduction of Propero’s speech written by William Shakespeare for The Tempest in both English and as recited in the trilogy in Italian. Ingenious tokens from the production replace a pedestrian Playbill crafted by the artist.
The second part of the trilogy was This Would Look Good On You. Where we go into Crispino’s closet and try things on that, she brought over from Italy and has not seen or visited the pieces since her trip across the ocean. Garments in boxes and racks are pulled out and sorted, and more stories s told.
Let Us Dream is a ten-minute wrap and the trilogy’s last installment. The audience moving rooms arrive in darkness. The whole experience is religious as a spotlight closes on a loaf of bread in the shape of a dove, symbolizing peace and transformation.
The attention to detail is impressive in this production. Guests or the audience were even given Covid tests upon arrival since it was an intimate dinner party of only 15, and we would be eating, drinking, and sharing stories.
An amazing production made with so much love it is palpable. Funny, joyous, and sad all at once, and not one of us left the theatre without immense compassion for this fellow human being’s journey thus far.
Spoiler – to date, Crispino has not married Byrne, but this is not about the past, only reading signs of the present.
Let Me Cook For You: The Trilogy written and performed by Orietta Crispino
Liza Cassidy, director; Assistant Director Molly Shayna Cohen; Lighting design by Riva Fairhall; sound design by Asa Marder; Kamila Slawinski public relations.
Theater Lab 357 West 36th Street 3rd floor. NYC 10018 (between 8-9th avenues) Opening Night and world premiere September 2, 2022. Through September 9.
Fri-Sat 7 pm; Sun 5 pm Tickets ($35-60) can be purchased at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1134578.