Enter, Grapefruit: The Play that Made a Fruit Heavy
Starting on December 1, and running though December 10, the new, experimental theater company out of Miami, Lakehouseranchdotpng, premiered its solicited version of “Enter, Grapefruit.” The show is a one-woman performance, with the silent help of another cast member, and it is an ode to Gilda Radner, a comedian famous for her work in the early days of Saturday Night Live and who died in the late 80s after a surprising cancer diagnosis. The writer, Charisma Jolly, also performs the show. For me, it was an experience quite unlike any I’ve come across, so far. Before I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the performance, I’d like to take a moment to broach the subject of the company’s venue and the setup of the stage. First off, Lakehouseranchdotpng is only in their second year of programming, so their performance venue is nothing special. In fact, it is so small, I was surprised. “Enter, Grapefruit” was held at Artistic Vibes in Kendall, and it was a difficult space to find.
GPS markers lead you to a stripmall-like row of businesses, but no indicator for any place on the street level. The darker hours made it more difficult, but lo and behold, on the second level of this facility had a door with a multi-colored sign denoting that whatever was beyond the door was something that tried its hand in artistic expression. Upon opening the door, a black box theater with two-three rows of black folding chairs met us, including a man taking notes wandering around the room. Not knowing what this performance was about, I did know that this silent person was part of the show in some way.
Now, Jolly’s play and performance had similar strengths to one another. In a strange pre-opening monologue, Jolly revealed that this whole thing was about the life and sickness of Gilda Radner, more commonly known as Gene Wilder’s wife. By way of opening the performance in this way, Jolly poised me to learn something from what was about to transpire. For the following thirty minutes, she tried to emulate Radner’s comedic sketches famous from SNL and the mention of an Off-Broadway show she performed. It was in the emotional crux of the piece to learn that Radner had a tumor the size of a grapefruit that ended up taking her life; Jolly wrote physical, large grapefruits into the play, appearing from nowhere. I derived the most meaning from the character Jolly was playing (herself, Radner, who knows?) finding the grapefruits, bringing the cancer into whatever it was she was practicing. It was thought-provoking in a satisfying way.
On the other hand, Jolly’s performance of the piece that she herself wrote felt awkward. I do not know if it was intentional, but the feeling was similar to a comic bombing on stage: it’s not pleasant to watch. The odd, tangential style of speech was hard to follow at times, but when it centered on an emotion other than humor is when I felt myself resonating with what I was seeing. Radner herself probably bombed more than a few times, so the act of including that isn’t a problem, but I didn’t necessarily want to feel that audience member feeling of watching someone bomb. The perspective changes, though, when one considers it was about the real life and real death of this person. From someone like Jolly, a senior at FIU Theatre, the evolution of this project is imminent, and I would be happy to see another version of this when it becomes more polished.
The best parts of this show were the history of the person who was Gilda Radner and the interpretative dance at the end where the silent stage manager, Jolly, and multiple grapefruits danced and wound their way around the minimalist stage. It was weird and cool.
Go see “Enter, Grapefruit” at Lakehouseranchdotpng through Sunday, December 10. Tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/enter-grapefruit-tickets-698183454507?aff=oddtdtcreator.