Written and Performed by Orietta Crispino; Directed by Liza Cassidy
Presented by TheaterLab
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 10.2.22
TheaterLab, 357 West 36th Street
by Emily Cordes on 9.22.22
Orietta Crispino in Let Me Cook For You: The Trilogy. Photo by Maria Baranova.
BOTTOM LINE: Intimate and expertly curated, one woman’s tale sheds light on the fathoms we contain.
Human lives are rich sagas unto themselves, and each of us exists as the protagonist of these tales, infused with the people, places, and things that have shaped us. In her autobiographical solo show Let Me Cook For You: The Trilogy, Orietta Crispino draws us into one such personal myth, using food, fashion, and storytelling to illustrate her journey as an artist and lover of life. Unfolding her narrative across three installments and two locations, Crispino transforms TheaterLab into an apartment-like personal space, gathering fifteen-person audiences for an evening of reflection and shared experience.
In the trilogy’s first chapter, “Let Me Cook For You,” Crispino treats us to a home-cooked meal and her origin story. Beginning in TheaterLab’s smaller gallery space, Crispino wakes from slumber atop a butcher-block kitchen island, musing on her surroundings and the love of beauty she inherited from her aesthetician mother. She admits that she never imagined sharing her story, let alone performing it, but invites us to extend that same clear-eyed compassion towards her, and ourselves, as we would to any character onstage. Moreover, she stresses that her tale is “not about the past,” but about reading, and interpreting, the signs of the present. As such, Crispino frames her story with such devices as meaningful numbers, familial legends, and horoscope-inspired prompt cards, then connects these elements with the personal anecdotes that form the piece’s throughline. (Thanks to white strips of paper on the space’s walls, this narrative cartography often turns literal, as Crispino uses them to take notes and highlight plot points for our benefit).
Crispino’s early life was shrouded in ambiguity: born prematurely after her young single mother’s attempted suicide, she spent much of her childhood shuttled across various parts of Italy, raised by relatives while her mother worked to support them. These circumstances led her to seek beauty and meaning wherever she could find it: in gossip and stories from her larger-than-life grandmother Ernestina; in Catholic-inspired art, ritual, and traditions; and in simple acts of serving others (a practice that reached its crux in the two years after her mother’s death, during which she provided beauty services for her mother’s full client roster). As she tells her story, Crispino makes us dinner, setting out napkins and cutlery, washing and dicing vegetables, and, with a single-top camping stove, preparing a stir-fry to share at the piece’s climax. The performance melts into a casual dinner party as we bond over food, wine, music, and banter, then briefly resumes with a discovery about Crispino’s absentee father and a quick cliffhanger ending.
In the second installment, “This Would Look Good On You,” Crispino dives deeper into her personal mythology, unpacking her extensive wardrobe and the stories behind its contents. TheaterLab’s larger performance space houses an array of racks, shelves, and storage boxes, each holding various items of clothing culled from her mother’s designer collection, personal acquisitions, and gifts from friends and family. Under the loose premise of downsizing, Crispino cycles through unpacking and donning various items, reminiscing about the people who gave her the clothes, the times and contexts in which she wore them, and the garments’ emotional life. Though this piece is the least structured of the trio, it’s never boring or self-indulgent: Crispino’s love of fashion and gleeful dress-up is infectious, and hits relatable points about the double edge of nostalgia, the cost of acquiring and preserving things of value, and the ridiculous lengths to which we go for beauty. Her repurposing of items (too-small skirts into hoods; impractical designer gowns into capes), is equally poignant and inventive, linking past and present with humor and respect.
The trilogy’s finale, "Let Us Dream," ends our experience in community and gentle contemplation. Returning to the gallery space, we sit in darkness as Crispino’s voiceover wraps up the earlier acts’ narratives and recounts the solace and affirmation she found in unexpected places. While this conclusion leaves several plot points under-resolved, particularly lingering questions about Crispino’s family, the effect is soothing and, as the title implies, that of a shared dream that Crispino guides us to absorb. In a final act of communion, we share Italian Easter bread and dessert wine, and Crispino distributes beautifully handmade souvenir programs.
Crispino is a natural and gracious storyteller, conveying warmth and love for the experience and for us as participants. Befitting the show’s religious and aesthetic motifs, there’s a sanctity in both its details and process: by tasting, smelling, touching, and witnessing, we take part in a shared ritual. As such, the show instills in us an appreciation for the stories we contain, and the countless small things that give our lives meaning. Like dinner with an old friend, Let Me Cook For You: The Trilogy will leave audiences with a sense of nourishment, connection, and enduring gratitude.
(Let Me Cook For You: The Trilogy plays at TheaterLab, 357 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor, through October 2, 2022. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 5. Proof of vaccination and negative COVID test required. The running time is 130 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $35-65 and can be purchased at theaterlabnyc.com.)
Let Me Cook For You: The Trilogy is written and performed by Orietta Crispino. Directed by Liza Cassidy. Lighting Design by Riva Fairhall. Molly Shayna Cohen is the Assistant Director.