Review: "Like a Little Grain of Sand" Explores an Enormous Injustice

Like a Little Grain of Sand (Come un granello di sabbia)

Written and directed by Salvatore Arena and Massimo Barilla

Historical Consultants: Giuseppe Gulotta and Nicola Biondo

Presented by Mana Chuma Teatro at Theaterlab, Manhattan, NYC on May 6, 2024, at 8 pm and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo’ at NYU, Manhattan, NYC on May 10, 2024, at 6 pm

Salvatore Arena. Photo by Marco Costantino
Under the best of circumstances, when everything functions as it should, it is questionable how far any justice system lives up to its name. When corruption and misconduct steer the process, even the innocent can find it almost impossible to extricate themselves from the system's crushing gears. Such was the case for Sicily's Giuseppe Gulotta, whose decades of injustice suffered at the hands of the Italian legal system is grippingly dramatized in Like a Little Grain of Sand (Come un granello di sabbia), written by Salvatore Arena and Massimo Barilla in consultation with Gulotta himself, whom the duo credited as a third author following the performance that we attended. Presented in Italian with English supertitles as part of the 2024 In Scena! Italian Theater Festival, which runs from April 29th to May 13th at multiple venues throughout the five boroughs, Like a Little Grain of Sand is a powerful final chapter for Mana Chuma Teatro's quadrilogy A Sud della Memoria, a series of works devoted to the contemporary history of Southern Italy.

The show, performed entirely by an excellent Salvatore Arena, begins with the sound of breaths in darkness, an effect echoed at the end of the show by Gulotta's wondering how many others are currently wandering the dark in search of the truth. Quickly, though, the mood lightens: the year is 1976, and we meet an 18-year-old Gulotta enjoying his new Vespa and celebrating his birthday. Before long, any joy evaporates as he is taken in for questioning in relation to the murders of two Carabinieri (national law enforcement officers) inside their station at Alcamo Marina. Beaten and coerced into signing a confession, Gulotta becomes entrapped in a decades-long morass of trials, prison time, appeals, and at least one suspicious death that drags out until his acquittal in 2012 (friends of his were also caught up in the scapegoating and cover up and suffered their own penal ordeals).

The show at times makes palpable the disorientating whirl of the legal machine and the despair that battens Gulotta, and Arena's manner of directly addressing audience members, used at intervals, effectively ratchets up the intensity. Gulotta's is the main voice that we hear, but Arena also embodies various others, including a Carabiniere who works, riskily, to pursue the truth and Michela, a woman with whom Gulotta develops a relationship. Into this story of a stolen life the play weaves images of water and clarity or cleansing, cutting consideration of those who didn't or couldn't speak up (at all or not until decades after the original conviction), and the tension between having survived to have more years to live in freedom and the loss of so many years past. The title of the play is invoked to represent Gulotta's feeling of having been a speck caught in a great machine, but while a grain of sand may be insignificant, it is also tough to destroy. Gulotta ultimately came out the other side of that machine, and his story not only survived with him but also continues, with the help of this formidable production, to spread, shining one more point of light into the pervading darkness.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

More from the 2024 In Scena! Italian Theater Festival:

News: In Scena! Italian Theater Festival NY 2024 Announces Performance Schedule and Awards

Review: "Help Wanted" Needs No Help Making Feminist Motherhood Funny

Review: "Sciara - Prima c'agghiorna" Poignantly Presents a Little-Known Part of Women's History

Review: "The Great Magic" Casts an Entrancing Spell

Review: "Opera Buffa!" Orchestrates an Extended Aria of Absurdity

Review: The Barbarity of Prison Extends Beyond Its Walls in "The Visit"


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