Human Fruit Bowl
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
August 13, 2013
A scene from Human Fruit Bowl
Human Fruit Bowl, by Andrea Kuchlewska,is a finely crafted, endlessly interesting portrait of a young woman. Entering the theatre, we are given a small piece of white paper and a pencil and instructed that there will be four 20-minute poses with five-minute breaks between.
A woman in a red bathrobe sits onstage next to a bathtub. This is Beth – she’s in her mid-twenties, living in NYC and not really sure what she’s doing with her life. Her roommate does some nude modeling for art classes for some extra cash, and Beth has decided to give it a try. When a timer goes off, she disrobes and arranges herself in the bathtub, conscious of choosing a pose she can hold for 20 minutes straight.
Frozen save for her mouth and eyes, we enter Beth’s mind, drifting in-and-out of her to-do list, her observations of the other (unseen) models and artists in the class, how odd it is to be naked in a room full of fully clothed people, and the relationship between artists and their models.
Though Beth claims to not be interested in art, she finds herself fixating on the relationship between artist Pierre Bonnard and his artist/lover Renee Monchaty who, so the story goes, killed herself in the bathtub when he married another. Yet the more she tries to learn about Monchaty, the more she discovers is unknown, overlooked, assumed or simply incorrect. In our “just Google it” era, the show provokes us to question what we know and what we think we know.
Harmony Stempel is exquisite as Beth, the Human Fruit Bowl. Though her body is immobile for 20 minutes at a time, Stempel’s vocal nuance/variation and expressive eyes keep us actively engaged. Even when standing stark naked with one hand on her hip, she is utterly natural and honest in her performance and you feel as though you genuinely know Beth.
The simplicity of the live modeling session form allows director Jessi D. Hill the canvas on which to highlight details and bring our attention to every subtlety – even the silent eating of an apple becomes a moment of deliberate and meaningful artistry.
Artists throughout time have been inspired by their models – they’ve loved them, betrayed them, married them. Beth joins the ranks of these muses who, naked in every sense of the word, are simultaneously seen and unseen – their bodies are stared upon intently, their likenesses don the walls of galleries and museums, but who are they? Human Fruit Bowl, intelligently and touchingly, models for us the naked mind and soul as well as the body.