Liz Mikel and Kiersey Clemons in Eve Ensler’s ‘Fruit Trilogy.’ (Photo: Maria Baranova)
Tony Award-winner Eve Ensler teams up with the Abingdon Theatre Company to bring her trio of short plays, Fruit Trilogy, to the Lucille Lortel Theatre. The play, which deals with the exploitation and eventual reclaiming of the female body, comes on the 20th anniversary of her groundbreaking work, The Vagina Monologues.
Featuring Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mikel, the play is broken into three parts: “Pomegranate,” “Avocado,” and “Coconut.” In “Pomegranate,” we see the disembodied heads of two women in boxes on display, as if in a store. They wear Day-Glo wigs and lipstick and force a smile while wondering who will ‘purchase’ them for the day.
Ensler was prompted to write the piece after researching an article for La Republica in Italy on ISIS capturing women and selling them to be raped. It’s heartbreaking; even more so when you hear “Item 1” say, “My own brother…” and later “Item 2” responds, “He comes here to buy, your brother, I watch him. He is rough with the merchandise.”
One character blames men’s behavior on circumstance. The other replies that even during war, “who you are is dependent on what you do when your life is threatened.” They ultimate agree that “these men, once our men, are really monsters.”
The second play, “Avocado,” is difficult to watch. It presents a young girl (Kiersey Clemons) forced by her family into sexual slavery. Now 16, she’s hiding in the darkness of a shipping container full of avocados, escaping to freedom. But she’s destined for another world of cages: the degrading immigration system.
The girl recounts “Senior Sausage,” a long, skinny man who buys her virginity, saying, “It was at the beginning and I was so small. Well, a child really. 12. Hadn’t even bled yet. He liked that. A lot of them do. I don’t know why exactly. Something untouched. Something no one else has had. Like a birthday present, shiny and new. They like to rip it open.”
It’s not enough for them to take your body, she says. They also want your pleasure. “They need to hear your noise. It’s like a bell at the end of the round.” When a john chokes her nearly unconscious, she attacks him and runs away, to “a country called asylum.” The saddest part is not the character’s damaged psyche; it’s knowing that her hell has just begun.
The third play, “Coconut,” is more celebratory. Breaking the fourth wall, the woman (Liz Mikel) sets up a shrine of candles, telling the audience, “Don’t underestimate the mystical implications of the bathroom.”
She pulls out a vat of coconut oil and slowly rubs it into her feet, imagining her softness as “the ultimate state of sensual achievement,” as if it’s her calling card: “What do you do? Well, I am soft.” She takes “what is dead and finished” and makes it moist and alive through the “transformative process of emollient change.”
She rubs deeper, opening the forgotten places in her flesh, the childhood damage of the other girls saying she’s too fat to be a ballerina. She rubs her feet and legs, her arms and breasts until the blood flows like a sea of red, and “all the dark yuck that has attached itself to me and defined me and kept me from being a dancing flame is melting.”
She strips naked, dancing in her imaginary flame, asking the audience only to witness, saying, “We need to be seen for how else do we know we exist?” This gets at the root of Ensler’s body of work: women being seen for who they are, their bodies being celebrated without being exploited. It’s the mere act of a woman enjoying her own pleasure, not as an “instrument of labor or service or a vehicle or a cavern or an object of worship or a vessel of sin.”
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Through June 23
For discounted tickets, visit https://www.goldstar.com/events/new-york-ny/fruit-trilogy-tickets
Winnie McCroy is a longtime arts & entertainment writer who lives in Brooklyn with her wife and her giant Rottweiler, Dixie Carter. For more of her reviews, visit winniemccroy.com.