Review: "Luisa" Finds the Courage to Speak Out

Luisa

Written and performed by Bruna Braidotti

Presented by Compagnia di Arti e Mestieri

May 4, 2023 at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò at NYU, 24 W 12th St, Manhattan, NYC

May 9, 2023 at TheaterLab, 357 W 36th St 3rd floor, Manhattan, NYC

Bruna Braidotti. Photo by Giorgio Russo.
The beginning and end of Luisa, written and performed by Bruna Braidotti, deploy doll imagery in connection to its titular character, in the first instance as something that has been broken and in the latter instance as a touching symbol of an unfulfilled longing for comfort and protection bound up with a lack of voice. In between, the show presents a compressed journey through Luisa's living with being a sexual abuse survivor. This elegantly crafted and absorbingly acted show, performed in Italian with English supertitles, is presented this month as part of the 2023 In Scena! Italian Theater Festival, taking place throughout NYC's five boroughs from May 1st through 16th, with free admission to all events.

We first meet Luisa as a child who is beginning to act out, breaking the aforementioned doll, doing worse in school, worrying about getting fat and feeling dirty, and so on. Another behavior that gets Luisa in trouble relates, with apt symbolism, to her Biblically-inspired desire for a cleansing flood. Braidotti presents most of this from the points of view of Luisa's mother and father, distinguished by their voices but also by the position of the swivel chair in which Braidotti sits. As we encounter older versions of Luisa, we continue to do so primarily through the eyes of others, specifically men with whom she becomes romantically involved. Yet another shrewd use of recurring symbolism enters here in Luisa's dislike of having curtains; and as the show moves towards a climactic, confrontational, and cathartic conversation with her mother, the balance of the performance shifts towards Luisa's own voice.

Braidotti ushers the audience through Luisa's story and its emotional ebbs and flows with assured skill, her mutable performance complemented at times by assertively colored lighting. In a short post-show Q&A, Braidotti said that she wrote the show in the 1990s, when intrafamilial sexual abuse was rarely discussed, with a close friend who went through what Luisa experiences, and she highlighted the theme of the solidarity, or the lack thereof between women, mentioning that she has gotten pushback over the years from audience members over the play's messages. Maybe such reactions should not be shocking, but one suspects that the dynamics of complicity that Luisa tackles remain in need of exposure and critique nearly as much now as they were when the show was written.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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