I’ve been thinking a lot about the three fruits that The Vagina Monologues’ Eve Ensler chose for her Fruit Trilogy, now receiving its New York premiere Off Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre: pomegranate, avocado, and coconut. They’re all, shall we say, difficult fruits. Choosing an almost-ripe-but-not-brown avocado is almost a science. Prying the edible seeds from a pomegranate takes more time than the eating itself. And cracking a coconut requires a toolbox for goodness’ sake. They’re not grab-and-go, like apples or bananas. These fruits take thought, care, and attention. They’re, in a word, complex.
So they’re rather appropriate for Fruit Trilogy, which is composed of three short plays centered on women and their relationship to their bodies (Ensler’s wheelhouse). After all, what is more complex—especially in 2018—than a woman’s body?
The bizarre Beckett-esque curtain-raiser, “Pomegranate,” puts two women (Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mikel)—or, rather, the heads of two women—on display. They’re for sale. They’ll be handled, squeezed and sniffed like produce in a market. And though there’s a message about commodification in there somewhere, “Pomegranate”—mercifully, the shortest of the three shorts—is just something you’ll have to endure to get to the harrowing “Avocado,” a monologue delivered by a child prostitute–turned–teen prostitute (Clemons, who’s magnificent). While she tries to overcome the stench of rotting avocados—she’s in a shipping container full of them, traveling toward “Asylum,” which she desperately hopes means freedom—she confesses that she is “the worst prostitute.” A fit of giggles ensues. “No skill. No finesse. No tricks up my hooker sleeves.” And though she laughs at herself and her circumstances, her stories filled with such sadness and anger and emptiness. “I got in trouble. 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.”
After the emotionally draining “Avocado” comes the restorative “Coconut.” We’re talking lit candles, chanting, towels: A woman (Mikel, perhaps best known as Smash Williams’ no-nonsense mom Corrina on TV’s Friday Night Lights) welcomes us into her bathroom, where she’s about to anoint her body with coconut oil. Before she begins, she invites us to take off our shoes. (Fortunately, no one seemed to oblige.) And then she engages in an almost ritualistic, uncomfortably intimate foot massage. (Uncomfortable for me—not for her.) How can a foot rub be that intimate? How can it possibly be more intimate than the next moment—when she removes her robe and her bra?
But here’s the rub with Fruit Trilogy: Each piece seems to exist in its own world. There’s no easy way to move from the avant-garde “Pomegranate” to the confessional “Coconut.” And after the weighty “Avocado,” “Coconut” seems almost trite. That’s not to devalue Mikel’s performance, which is warm and joyous and inviting. “Can you imagine watching me might not even be about you?” she asks. “Can we call this something else, can we call it a shared private coconut oil happening? A cosmic body lift, a mystical flesh occurrence?” Personally, I prefer not to share my coconut oil happenings. But I admire Ensler’s message of positivity and celebration of visibility.
Fruit Trilogy opened June 7, 2018, and runs through June 23. Tickets and information: abingdontheatre.org