Review: FORBIDDEN FRUIT at Shaking The Tree

This intimate work of art runs through April 1.

By: Mar. 14, 2023
Review: FORBIDDEN FRUIT at Shaking The Tree
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The hardest thing about writing a review for pretty much every show at Shaking the Tree is finding the words. I often leave the theatre speechless, and any words I can conjure up later are inadequate to describe the visceral experience. FORBIDDEN FRUIT is this type of theatre of the gut.

It manages to capture - in just 90 minutes - the full range of women's experience. Or, perhaps more accurately, it explores all of the ways that women can be trapped - by social norms, in relationships, in our own bodies, sometimes quite literally in rooms. At a theatre already known for work that feels like jumping off a cliff, director Samantha Van Der Merwe has found a way to take it up a notch.

FORBIDDEN FRUIT is a collection of nine short plays / performances. Eight of them take place in small rooms that allow six audience members at a time, while the ninth - which could be described as a series of images about what might happen if Alice took all of the drugs in Wonderland at once - fills the space between them.

I started with "The Quince," a musical fairytale by Josie Seid and Joellen Sweeney (performed by Sweeney, Madeline Ross, and Max Tapogna) about sex and secrets, and then went to "The Apple," a classroom presentation by Michelle Ruiz Keil (performed by Sofia Marks) on becoming a woman in a society that sexualizes young girls.

Then came "The Wild Banana," a reflection on the domestication of both fruit and women, written by Heath Hyun Houghton and performed by Madeleine Tran, and "The Pomegranate," a piece devised and performed by Olivia Mathews (maybe) about what happens when you get what you think you want. As I moved through the rooms, I was once again astonished by Van Der Merwe's ability to do so much with so little space - each room is a work of art in its own right.

Just over halfway through the show, something extraordinary happened: I saw myself represented on stage. Not just, "Oh, I know how that feels," but, "Oh my did you know? I haven't talked to anyone about this." The piece was E.M. Lewis's "The Fig," performed by Val Landrum, about the silence and fear surrounding perimenopause. Feeling incredibly exposed, I moved to "The Mushroom," by Andrea Stolowitz (performed by Vana O'Brien), which is an oddly comforting lesson from Eve herself about sexual and reproductive control.

I already felt like I had been on an emotional rollercoaster, but still nothing could prepare me for the last two rooms. "The Grape," by Amy Leona Havin, is a dance of sorts, stunningly performed by Claire Aldridge, that evokes resilience in the face of all manner of violence and trauma. Finally, Sara Jean Accuardi's "The Wheat Berry," performed by Kailey Rhodes, is a gut-wrenching play about losing yourself. I had to fight with myself to stay in my seat when what I really wanted to do was fling open the door and help these women to freedom.

This is very intimate theatre, and not just because it's performed for small groups in small rooms. Every piece deals with an intimate subject - something we don't like, or don't know how, to talk about. So, buckle up. And go see it.

FORBIDDEN FRUIT runs through April 1. Only 48 spots available per night. More details and tickets here.


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