Off Broadway Reviews
Magazine cover after cover, it's become clear that we live in a world where women's bodies are up for sale. Where it's easy for consumers to pick up copies of glossy print where they can project their fantasies and, more often than not, pass judgment based on their preconceptions. The entertainment industry also constantly reminds us that only a certain kind of woman should be desirable, they should be a certain age, a certain size, a certain skin color. Fit the mold and people will pay money for you. But in her harrowing Fruit Trilogy, which opened at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village, playwright Eve Ensler reminds us that in many cases these sales aren't only literal, but unilateral, the women being sold, exchanged, and traded, don't have a say in what happens to their bodies.
A triptych composed of two short monologues and a two-hander (or a two-header to be more accurate), Fruit Trilogy takes place, for the most part, within the confines of a rectangular set that recalls a shipping container and a coffin. It opens with Pomegranate in which the disembodied heads of two women (played by Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mikel) chat about their limited perceptions, while reminiscing what it was like to have a body. Darkly comic, made even more so by Andrea Lauer's bright neon wigs, the piece establishes the threadline that unifies the three plays: that we have no idea where Ensler is taking us.
If she was a tour guide, Ensler would be the kind who asks you to venture into pits of darkness, without ever promising light on the other side. If anything, she would guide you unsure herself of what waits on the other side. Her words, and the places she takes her characters to, rely on what can only be described as an esoteric law of physics, something along the lines of: we have endured this much, so the universe ought to balance it out somehow. That she does this without relying on condescension or cliché is miraculous and life affirming.
In Avocado we meet a young woman (Clemons) forced into sex slavery by her family. As she recalls the man who robbed her of her virginity, inertia turns us into accomplices, by sitting there are we also contributing to a culture where so little is done to save so many women like the nameless human being we're seeing onstage? Even the fact we don't learn her name should tell us something, Ensler isn't going for generalized "she could be anyone" platitudes, instead in a way she's granting this woman a mercy by not letting us appropriate her name. It might be the only thing that still truly belongs to her.
And just as darkness seems to be truly taking hold, Ensler gives us Coconut, a sensuous piece of writing, beautifully brought to life by Mikel. We first see her coming from the back of the stage, for a while she looks like one of the heads from Pomegranate, but then she leaves the oppressive rectangle and comes to the front of the stage, where she applies generous amounts of coconut oil to her body, while praising the qualities of the seemingly miraculous elixir, and giving in to an experience so pleasurable, it also becomes terrifying. As she breaks the fourth wall, finally reminding us we have nowhere to hide and that we can't pretend not to be there, Ensler leaves us with perhaps the scariest question of the evening: now we know the facts and where we stand. So, what are we going to do about it?