Gilda Radner, one of the seven original cast members on NBC's “Saturday Night Live” battled through hardships including…grapefruit?
Indeed, in Florida International University theater student Charisma Jolly’s engaging short play about Radner (1946-1989), the citrus fruit proves to be an adversary…kind of.
Actually, in the play, grapefruit symbolizes obstacles that Radner faced but didn’t let quash her easily. In fact, you can learn more in “Enter, Grapefruit.” The piece is receiving its regional premiere in a solid production through this weekend by the Miami-based absurdist and experimental theater company LakehouseRanchDotPNG.
The production takes place in Artistic Vibes, the company’s tiny black box theater space in Kendall with just three rows of audience seating. Jolly is one of the company’s resident playwrights. She wrote “Enter, Grapefruit,” for her senior thesis at FIU. She concedes that the piece hardly represents a complete portrait of Radner’s life and career. Instead, it is “only a fraction” of the late performer’s life. Still, the play provides a peek into what may have been going through Radner’s mind during a performance or rehearsal.
There are several uncomfortable incidents throughout the roughly 40-minute piece, but Jolly purposely included them in her script. They are meant to depict those times during a performance in which one or more performers experience awkward moments on stage. During such times, the key is to improvise, and Radner does just that during “Enter, Grapefruit.” And, to her credit, Jolly makes improvising look easy. The performer, a young woman with long dark hair and shining dark eyes, demonstrates, well, charisma on stage.
If only that grapefruit would cooperate, though. It seemingly magically pops up out of nowhere, interrupting the flow of the performance.
Jolly may have decided on a grapefruit as a symbol since doctors discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor in the performer’s abdomen when diagnosing her with ovarian cancer.
“She struggled with eating disorders, divorce, miscarriages, and more,” Jolly wrote in her playwright’s note in the program. “Her struggle with cancer is just the one that finally broke the camel’s back as it were.”
But Jolly finds humor even in dark subjects such as illness in “Enter, Grapefruit.”
“Here’s a funny thing about doctors, they LOVE produce,” Radner/Jolly tells us. ‘Your baby is the size of a blackberry. Your baby is the size of an apple. Your baby is now the size of a CUMQUAT. Turns out, they also love to do the same thing for ‘masses.’ Turns out I had a tumor the size of a --.”
And right before she says the word, out rolls a grapefruit onto the stage.
But Radner proves resilient.
“OK, you know what? No. I refuse to let whatever all this is (to) stop us from having a great night,” she tells us. “So, we are going to…work with material I already know how to do, that way nothing can go wrong. The problem is…I don’t have my tap shoes.”
Then, you guessed it, they materialize from offstage.
And yes, Radner treats us to a dance, which she shares with a performer (a smooth Carlos Artze) briefly portraying Radner’s husband, Gene Wilder. Certainly, it’s a graceful moment in the play.
Speaking of Wilder, Radner briefly talks about him and how she appeared in films with the movie star. In addition, we learn about Radner’s personality (she never did grow up from childhood), her bout with stage fright, her family history with illness, and how she coped with her serious diagnosis.
“You know, the hardest part of cancer was not the whole mortal fear of dying. It was honestly losing my hair,” she says. “You create a signature look for yourself and then life throws a wrench at you, and then it beats you over the head with it.”
While Radner’s humor shines through in the play, we also get brief glimpses of her vulnerability. But mostly, we witness a humorous, indomitable individual who loves to entertain and make others happy.
Jolly, who also directed the production, performs against the backdrop of a simple set that includes props such as a rack from which to hang clothes and a keyboard. Jolly and Amanda Hernandez handled the simple scenic design, as well as the realistic lighting design and character-appropriate costume design. And Ciara Hannon designed the sound.
While “Enter, Grapefruit” offers but a glimpse into Radner’s life, Jolly may expand the piece.
“For the sake of storytelling I cut out a lot but if I really wanted to, I could write a two-hour biopic about her (maybe one day),” she says.
“Enter, Grapefruit” runs through Dec. 10 at LakeHouseRanchDotPNG’s Artistic Vibes space, 8846 SW 129th Terrace in Miami. Performance times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday as well as 2 p.m. Sunday. For more information, go to www.lakehouseranchdotpng.com.