These three new short plays written by Eve Ensler about women and the use and abuse of their bodies arrive on stage just four months after her last play, In the Body of the World , turned me into a fan. I was impressed in that earlier play by the sharpness of her insights and the humor of their delivery; engaged in the specificity of her rage; both taken aback and riveted by her candor.
Each of the new plays, performed not by Ensler herself but by the actresses Liz Mikel and Kiersey Clemons, is named after a fruit – “Pomegranate,” “Avocado” and “Coconut.” Together, they seem to take us on a journey from disembodied to full-bodied; from pain to pleasure; from exploitation to celebration. If there are fewer insights and less humor over much of the 80 minutes of Fruit Trilogy than in her last play — if much of the rage is vague — Ensler returns to form in “Coconut,” a celebration of full-bodied pleasure that is in equal measure shocking and exhilarating.
In “Pomegranate,” Liz Mikel and Kiersey Clemons portray two women as just heads on a shelf in a warehouse storage room in some horrible patriarchal society where women are nothing more than merchandise for sale They wear Day-Glo wigs, with ghoulish illumination, and disagree over how monstrous all men are, and how complicit women are: “We are women more willing to be vile receptacles then we are willing to be dead.”
They are grateful that they are near the front, so they can look out the window and see that the pomegranates are in bloom, as deeply red as the color of blood.
The set-up might have been more provocative were it not so reminiscent of the plays Beckett wrote half a century ago, Happy Days and Not I.
In “Avocado” Kiersey Clemons portrays a woman who is in a “container’ packed in along with a shipment of avocadoes. It’s not completely clear what the container is (a train, a ship, a metaphor for life’s journey), nor where she is going — and the ambiguity is not as interesting as the playwright might think. But the character becomes explicit and harrowing in describing the plight that somehow led her to this journey: Her mother sold her into prostitution.
“A pissed off john told the boss I was a frigid bitch. Told him I wasn’t giving him anything. No, just my body. Just my life. They want more. They want your pleasure. I told the boss who owns me maybe he could fire me, maybe I was in the wrong line of slavery. He didn’t appreciate my humor and he hit me.”
In “Coconut,” Liz Mikel enters her bathroom, which she has turned into a kind of shrine, complete with burning candles, and begins to massage her foot with coconut oil as part of what she considers a kind of religious ritual, except (she tells us) it’s different each time. The monologue slowly builds into something quite breathtaking, suggesting something close to Molly Bloom’s monologue at the end of Joyce’s Ulysses, a passionate outburst about the pleasure a woman’s body can give her – but in Ensler’s play laced with a decidedly feminist message. Mikel disrobes, but immediately admonishes the audience not to give her labels like exhibitionist. “What if you were there not to be titillated but instead to watch, learn, appreciate, to perceive and understand my pleasure but not in a lascivious way. …What if you were there to be my witness. I need you to be my witness. We all need to be witnessed. Seen.”
Abingdon Theater Company at Lucille Lortel
Written by Eve Ensler
Directed by Mark Rosenblatt
scenic design by Mark Wendland, costume design by Andrea Lauer, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and sound design by Matt Hubbs.
Cast: Kiersey Clemons, Liz Mikel
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
Fruit Trilogy is scheduled to run through June 23,2018