By Eve Ensler
Directed by Mark Rosenblatt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Eve Ensler’s commitment to ending violence against cisgender, transgender, and gender non-conforming women and girls globally (V-Day: A Global Movement to End Violence Against Women) has been unwavering since “The Vagina Monologues” premiered at HERE in 1996. Ms. Ensler attempts to continue that commitment in “Fruit Trilogy,” Abingdon Theatre Company’s final mainstage production of its twenty-fifth anniversary season. Currently in its “New York premiere” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, “Fruit Trilogy” was produced outside of New York City as early as 2016 in Leeds, England.
The trilogy includes three short plays “Pomegranate,” “Avocado,” and “Coconut” that deal respectively with issues of degradation, oppression, and emancipation. In the first twenty-minute play, Pomegranate,” two talking heads chatter to one another on a shelf in a warehouse. Ms. Ensler chooses to write here in an odd post-absurdist style which tends to obfuscate the piece’s important conversation about sex workers and the dishonor of their profession (chosen or otherwise). At the beginning of the piece, the pair – Item 1 and Item 2 – (Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mike) observe the arrival of more pomegranates, foreshadowing what is to come in the second short play “Avocado.”
“Avocado” features Kiersey Clemons in a twenty-minutes non-linear monologue that addresses a multitude of issues of oppression and violence against women and girls, including human trafficking, child prostitution, and slavery. Her character is being transported in a container of avocados (perhaps to the warehouse in “Pomegranate?”) where she has been placed against her will and, apparently, at the direction of her father and with the complicity of her mother. Is she on her way to some Asylum proffered by the traffikers (the “whackers”) or, more likely, to sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation? Her pleas for release ring with fear that overshadows any chance of redemption and release. Ms. Clemons, assumedly following Mark Rosenblatt’s direction, delivers her monologue in a monochromatic frenzy that, overall, detracts from the strength of the rhetorical argument.
The final play of the trilogy, “Coconut,” begins with Liz Mike’s character setting up an “altar” in her bathroom. She warns, “Some people go to church. Some people go to mosque or a temple. I come here. Yes, I realize it’s a bathroom. But don’t underestimate the mystical implications of the bathroom.” She proceeds to massage her right foot for the first time in front of observers (the audience). The “rubbing” triggers a hallucinogenic “trip” into layers of the speaker’s past, including the day her dance teacher asked, “How can you dance when you’re so fat?” These memories result in a “cathartic” disrobing and dance (unfortunately, not balletic) of “emancipation.” As she strips off her top and gets undressed and begins to oil her arms and breasts, neck and stomach, the speaker cautions, “Oh no, please don’t do that. Don’t get in your head now.” The audience does not need that censure and, further, the nudity is gratuitous and unnecessary.
The trilogy suffers from performances that seem – given the strength of the cast – oddly disconnected from the material. And some of the arguments addressed in the material itself seem dated. Issues of self-image, for example, overshadow the contemporary pandemic of bullying and cyber-bullying that effect the cisgender, transgender, and gender non-conforming community of vulnerable women and girls. This disconnect might be the result of Mr. Rosenblatt’s erratic direction or the script itself.
“Fruit Trilogy,” though timely, does not thoroughly address – or fully counterpoint with – the MeToo Movement founded in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke that went viral in 2017 after the allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. The powerful issues of entitlement and sexual misconduct in the workplace are not addressed and for that reason, despite its important, relevant, and compelling themes, it falls short of making the strongest case for emancipation.