By Eve Ensler; Directed by Mark Rosenblatt
Produced by Abingdon Theatre Company
Off Broadway, Short Plays
Runs through 6.24.18
Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street
by Ran Xia on 6.20.18
Kiersey Clemons in Avocado (Part 2 of Fruit Trilogy). Photo by Maria Baranova
BOTTOM LINE: These beautiful and vulnerable short plays by Eve Ensler tap into the depths of the female body.
An Eve Ensler play is simple, but only in its presentation—typically solo pieces interconnected into a thematic series, a la The Vagina Monologues. The emotions trickle over you ever so gently in the beginning, and then, before you realize it, you're overcome with its power like an all-consuming flame, because there is power in vulnerability. If nothing else, this makes the three short plays in Fruit Trilogy breathtaking.
First up is Pomegranate. In a quirkier Waiting for Godot fashion, two dolls (Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mikel) in plastic packaging sit on the window shelf in an nondescript store, waiting for their turn to be picked. These long-time friends-by-proximity share a miserable existence, forever bearing witness to the hardship of the world, like Tantalus' perpetual punishment. They commiserate as the rude and rough fingers of men pluck their hair and eyelids, they flash their well-practiced, painted-on smiles for potential customers, and they share with each other all that they love and hate—including the pomegranates, the frightfully red fruit that connect the two even though they can't even turn their heads to see their constant companions.
In the haunting Avocado, a young girl (Kiersey Clemons) suffers from ichthyophobia (fear of fish), in spite of being the daughter of a fisherman. She's trapped in a box, packed in alongside crates of avocados. It's a slow revelation to learn who she is: kidnapped, she was forced into a life of prostitution, and she eventually fled. Perhaps it's the Fates working in their strange ways that allowed me to see the galvanizing Kiersey Clemons in these two plays the day after having seen her in Heart Beats Loud. Her versatility is a true marvel.
And lastly, the always magnetizing Liz Mikel performs in Coconut, which is perhaps the most nuanced of the three. In this gorgeous final treat, we witness the sacred practice of a woman loving herself. The bathroom is a temple, and with a jar of coconut oil, she begins to share her experience of self discovery with the audience in the most intimate, revealing, and vulnerable way possible.
Fruits are metaphors for female bodies in this trilogy. In Pomegranate, the body is a missing concept. The women are seen as manufactured goods with artificial smiles, and no agencies of their own. The hint of Persephone, the woman snatched to the Underworld, is not lost here, with pomegranates as a symbol of hope. Yet the distance of that hope makes the despair even harder to swallow.
In Avocado the body is a literal cage: the girl is caged in her head because her reality is full of pain and hardship; she's caged as a slave against her will; and now she choose to be caged, hoping to reach "asylum." "No one protects the girl who did things herself," she says, before embarking on her journey. Asylum, a place she's heard of in fairytale-like stories, is a place where she will finally be protected and loved. Of course, the idea of asylum used to instill in us hope for the heroine: in America, land of the free, she'll finally be able to live like a human being. Yet today the same idea fills us with fear of the unknown—she could well be in for something even worse. It's a brutal thing to hear a young girl's voice describe her history of sexual abuse. What is worse is how familiar this narrative is, how used to it we've become. With images of tent cities at the U.S. border flooding our social media and the daily horrors of immigrant stories, the relevancy of Avocado is a gut punch.
And finally, the body is a secret diary in Coconut, like the hard shell of the fruit sheltering the soft, raw inside. We are sometimes our own worst Blue Beards, and it's a scary thing to unlock our own secret doors. What's behind those doors is often too painful to bear. Coconut celebrate all of this. "I know what I'm doing and I know what I want," says the woman demanding to be seen, but to be "safe in the open eyes of the world." The audience murmurs in agreement. This is about a woman's pleasure, her presence, her self love—she has no obligation of bringing anyone else anything at all.
There is genius production design, including Mark Wendland's staple two-tier set, Matt Hubb's immersive sound effects, and Jeannette Yew's lighting that is almost a character of its own. Yet if you miss this, know that the plays read like short stories deserving of closer attention and a life outside the theatre. Fruit Trilogy is about female identities. It asks—how can women's bodies be seen and celebrated in a way that's safe, without lascivious intentions? Although the various narratives get a bit convoluted at moments, the production is certainly one of the most politically relevant and engaging pieces of new theatre.
(Fruit Trilogy plays at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, through June 24, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 20 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; and Saturdays at 3 and 8. Tickets are $65 – $85 and are available at abingdontheatre.org.)
Fruit Trilogy is by Eve Ensler. Directed by Mark Rosenblatt. Scenic Design by Mark Wendland. Costume Design by Andrea Lauer. Lighting Design by Jeanette Yew. Sound Design by Matt Hubbs. Production Manager is Felicia Hall/Five OHM. Production Stage Manager is Katie Ailinger.
The cast is Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mikel.