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How to Eat an Orange

Paula Pizzi. Photo by Steven Pisano.

"This story is about circumstances." La Mama’s newest production, How to Eat an Orange is a call to action for everyone observing the events unfolding in our world right now. Written by Catherine Filioux, and performed by Paula Pizzi, this one-woman show explores Claudia Bernardi's work, struggles, and formative moments. Bernardi is an Argentinian artist and activist who lived in Buenos Aires during and after the 1976 Argentine coup d'état and the Dirty War, which saw the disappearance of 22 to 30 thousand Argentinians, who were later discovered and identified in mass graves.

Suffice it to say, this piece is not theatre for the person looking to ‘escape the world’ with entertainment. In a theatrical market dominated by productions focused on ensuring satisfaction by delivering on nostalgia, How to Eat an Orange stands out for daring to be culturally significant here and now. This play is steeped in our cultural climate, though it largely concerns a long-passed period of Argentinian dictatorship, a period where atrocities were committed and then swiftly swept under the rug, and the leaders who ordered these atrocities granted complete amnesty. The play forces its central character, Claudia, to confront her lack of action and her refusal to be vigilant as a young person in Argentina as these horrors are being carried out.

It is not without love and joy, however. Seeking to culminate the storied life of Bernardi, the piece weaves this account of Argentina’s leaders failing their people with rich, poetic scenes from life, particularly centered on Bernardi’s relationship with her mother, grandmother, and her sister Patricia, who later founded a group of forensic scientists to exhume and identify the bodies in the mass graves. The private and public individual are intertwined. Bernardi refuses to exonerate herself from her complacency in the events she and Patricia now see unfolding in retrospect. It is an experience of intense humanity, a challenge that, for now, we only have to experience vicariously.

The performance uses every opportunity it can to elevate the text and educate the context. Projections show the visages of prominent figures of the Dirty War, news footage from the 2005 referendum which convicted the guilty leaders, we hear the people singing outside the courthouse. More ambient visuals are used to create both peace and unease throughout the more personal, poetic sections, accompanied by stellar sound design by Nathan Leigh.

How to Eat an Orange is a play with intimidating context. It handles the stories of a living figure, a complex, nuanced history, and a culture largely unfamiliar to American theatre audiences. Elena Araoz’s direction and Filioux’s text make this story accessible, engaging, and poignant. When Paula Pizzi, as Claudia, reminds us that she is telling us this story ‘because of the circumstances’, there is an implicit nudge, the glint in her eye saying, ‘you know what I’m talking about.’ In the talkback after the performance, the real Claudia Bernardi urged the audience to remain vigilant of the actions going on in our world, and not to let our silence speak out as complacency.

"How to Eat an Orange"

Written by Catherine Filloux

Performed by Paula Pizzi

Directed by Elena Araoz

May 30- June 16, 2024

La Mama (66 East 4th Street, NYC)


Rita Frances Welch is… Wait, who’s asking? There are a few answers depending on the context. Rita is A) A New York playwright, actor, and director, B) The owner of 5 discrete copies of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, C) A force of nature, controlled by the tides and called to by the wind, disappearing and returning like the seasons. More material than their author, Rita’s plays have been produced by The Tank, Theatre X, Playwrights Performance, and Rogue Theatre Festival. They hold a B.F.A. in Acting from Shenandoah Conservatory, during which they studied under LAByrinth Theater’s Martha Wollner and Padraic Lillis. Rita’s writing functions as an experiment- a combination of characters in the petri dish of their world, their personal challenges and delusions in a vacuum, isolating for every variable but one: Human nature, which reveals itself every time.


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