Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!
Playwright/author/activist/performer Eve Ensler lives with a revolutionary flag in her grasp. The Vagina Monologues, whose revelations struck like thunderbolts, brought her to prominence in 1996. Translated into 48 languages and performed in over 148 countries, it’s provoked backlash, started conversation and elicited productive consciousness all over the world. Ensler’s last New York presentation, In the Body of the World, was an engaging personal journey enacted by its author.
The Fruit Trilogy is comprised of a trio of brief plays titled Pomegranate, Avocado and Coconut. (Read it here because program information is only accessed online after the fact.) Inhabited by two extraordinary actresses, it addresses women as commodities; an escape from sex trafficking that leads to the dangerous, dehumanizing quagmire of immigration; and dramatization of an every-woman “getting back into”/loving her body. Ensler is articulate, specific, ambitious, and brave.
Liz Mikel and Kiersey Clemons
First, and to my mind least successful, is the confusing Pomegranate. In the future, it seems, women are unabashedly merchandised. (Yes, more than we are today.) Two females discuss the use and abuse of their bodies but we see only boxed heads on a shelf. Chosen fruit serves as a metaphor for Spring/hope.
Avocado locks us in a freight car/ship’s container/traveling truck (packed with avocados) as brought to life by Mark Wendland’s claustrophobic Scenic Design, Matt Hubb’s nerve- fraying Sound Design and Jeanette O-Suk Yew’s evocative Lighting. The trapped 16 year-old girl trying to keep her sanity (she’s undoubtedly not alone but we hear only from her) had been a sex slave 4 years before risking everything in search of a country called asylum. “Hop in, queen,” they told her, “This will be your new beginning.”
Laughing and crying, ferocious, manic, petrified, exhausted, she shares her story and reacts to current conditions in visceral, perceptive detail. “They want to believe you like it…It’s so weird to have someone inside you who doesn’t want to be connected to you. They want you to make that has been conquered sound…” Only intermittent shafts of lights so welcome they’re perceived as angels offer illusive relief.
There’s no way to prepare for the arsenal of visions conjured and feelings invoked by Ensler’s brutal, lucid prose and actress Kiersey Clemons’s gut wrenching performance. The artist employs every aspect of herself to spellbinding effect.
Coconut disarmingly begins with a large, beautiful woman (Liz Mikel) inviting us to join her in a candlelit bathroom. “Some people go to church, a mosque or a temple. I come here….I’ve already taken a bath. I didn’t think you needed to be here for that…” To say there’s no fourth wall, is like referring to Jascha Heifetz as a fiddle player. The in-your-face ritual we’re about to experience is as intimate, sensual, celebratory, uninhibited and ultimately shocking as anything I’ve seen on stage.
“In the beginning, I was just rubbing cream into my skin and I wasn’t doing it for me,” we’re told as the robed actress begins massaging a foot with oil. “My hair is unpredictable and dare I say, I could be thinner, but I’m soft…” Describing sensation and intent, she gives soulful testimony while taking us on a journey of self discovery.
As heat and passion rise to orgiastic dimension, our character briefly rages against inequality and for women’s rights, a parentheses I find disconnecting. Self love and wanton abandon win the day, however, creating tribal atmosphere that will galvanize and probe. You’ve never seen a dance like this one!
Mikel’s liberation is a stellar example to us all. The astonishing performer expands into every corner of the theater. She flirts, seduces, and compels. Joy is infectious. Senses reel.
Director Mark Rosenblatt, who commissioned the piece, not only has a preternatural understanding of these women, but the talent to bring forth extreme physical manifestation as well as dynamic, empathetic emotion. His imagination adds immeasurably to Ensler’s own pithy creativity.
The crusade for awareness and change continues.
Warning: You may feel poorly towards men directly after. Oh, and take a sweater- the theater’s very cold.
“After select performances, V-Day, the global activist movement to end violence against all women and girls founded by Ensler, will host a talkback series lead by activists , artists, and thinkers…”
Photos by Maria Baranova
Opening: Liz Mikel and Kiersey Clemons
Abingdon Theatre Company presents
Fruit Trilogy by Eve Ensler
Featuring Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mikel
Directed by Mark Rosenblatt
Through June 23, 2018
The Lucille Lortell Theatre 212 Christopher Street