After 13 years, colorful cabaret Fresh Fruit Productions says the time is ripe to say goodbye
It’s been a bushel of laughs, even when their un-PC humor was driving more straight-laced audience members bananas. (Obligation for fruit puns: satisfied.) But the fabulous foursome in Fresh Fruit – a music, comedy, and drag theater act that has brightened Boston’s stages since 2000 – has decided their current show at Club Cafe, Fresh Fruit Has Sex-A-Peel, will be the last.
Don’t cry for them, Argentina. (Or even you, South End.) Though the goodbye is bittersweet, the Fruits say they’re happy to be going out while they’re still at their sassiest, smartest, and yes – freshest.
“We took last year off, and it really gave us a chance to reflect on what we wanted to do, our next steps,” says Fruit performer Rodney VanDerwarker, who has been with the group since its inception. Though the troupe has a dedicated team of volunteers, its main cast is responsible for managing every aspect of every production: from writing scripts to arranging music, and from sewing costumes to planning marketing initiatives. So the rare respite was refreshing, says VanDerwarker. Plus, lives change in 13 years. Jobs get hectic, time gets crunched, and new priorities emerge; for instance VanDerwarker is a little busy planning another big event, his wedding, for later this year. “It’s not a sustainable model to continue,” says VanDerwarker.
“Every show is a year-long process,” elaborates Fruit performer Michael Gaucher. “It sucks up every moment in life, because we all love it so much. If there was a way that we could do it differently, I think we’d continue. But we’ve set the bar high for ourselves, and we don’t want to see that compromised in the outcome.”
Indeed, for over a decade Fresh Fruit has been raising the bar for Boston fringe theatre. A refresher course, for the uninitiated: its four founders launched the group in 2000 to imbue the LGBT scene with smart, satirical performances. Unlike other companies that mainly add campy twists to existing source material, Fresh Fruit produces all-original vignettes (with some Queer Weird Al-style song parodies) that lampoon pop culture, national politics, and gay life. The Fruits have become known for their Oh No She Didn’t-evoking style of no-holds-barred comedy, propensity for equal opportunity offensiveness (no age, race, orientation or politician is considered sacred), and its members’ willingness to air their individual points of view, even when it can be contentious.
Gaucher admits he’ll miss that soapbox. He remembers one past number he performed, set to “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch,” that asked whether gay marriage has created a two-tier caste system among gays. One offended audience member hurled profanities and walked out mid-show. But Gaucher knows that touching a nerve means you’re doing something right. “To get that statement out with some kind of artistic vision, that’s something I never would have been able to do without Fresh Fruit,” says Gaucher.
This year’s show, Fresh Fruit Has Sex-A-Peel, combines fan-favorite scenes from previous shows with spanking new material. The Fruits take aim at FOX news, perform a Marie Antoinette-inspired number that sends up America’s “1 percent,” and spoof the Supreme Court in a style more befitting Diana Ross than Clarence Thomas. Gaucher says there’s an especially burlesque vibe to this year’s show, with performers peeling back layers, in some cases literally, on stage: a nod to the group’s current transition.
And my, how Fresh Fruit has changed over the years. The shows have grown in professionalism, and the audience has grown in scope – what started as a word-of-mouth sensation has turned into an annual tradition for devoted fans. And the experience has made lasting emotional impacts on its members: something that VanDerwarker will share during Fresh Fruit Unpeeled, a free retrospective that he hosts on Thursday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Club Café. (Longtime member Peter Gaioni hosts a second Unpeeled on Thursday, April 18.)
Of course, the world has changed too. When Fresh Fruit launched in 2000, gay images in mainstream entertainment were rare: Will & Grace or nothing. There’s now far greater representation of LGBT people. Fresh Fruit hasn’t experienced diminished demand; in fact, about 50 percent of the (still) sold out seats go to straight folks, says VanDerwarker. But the Fruits acknowledge that there is a generational shift in the perceived need for LGBT theater tradition.
“A lot of younger folks I talk to don’t know anything about Fresh Fruit,” says Gaucher. “They have had gay characters on TV and GSAs in their schools all their lives. I don’t if it’s something that they see as important.”
“The progress we’ve seen is amazing! Who wouldn’t want that?” Gaucher continues. “But, and this is Michael Gaucher talking, not the Fruits – Out of oppression there has often been great art and community. No one would wish oppression on anyone, but there have been beautiful and worthwhile things that come out of it.”
In New England gay theater, Fresh Fruit will surely go down as one of those things. And while its members say that the full force of the farewell hasn’t hit them yet, they’ve been incredibly touched by the sentimentality of longtime fans.
“It’s given me such humility and gratitude,” says Gaucher of the outpouring their swan song has received. “There’s a moment I say this in the show, but I really wish I could write a thank you note to every person in the audience.”
A little hope will suffice: any chance for an eventual Fresh Fruit revival? Gaucher says there’s a possibility that it could live on somehow, in a new form or constitution that hasn’t yet been determined. And though VanDerwarker is cagier – frankly, he’s knee-deep in wedding mode – he won’t entirely discount the idea of donning his wig once again.
“Who knows, maybe next year we’ll call each other up and say, ‘What the hell were we thinking?’” laughs VanDerwarker. “I have this picture in my head, like a scene out of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, where the phone rings and we’re tempted to perform again somehow. “
As they ask in the dating world: how soon is to soon to call?
“Fresh Fruit Has Sex-A-Peel” runs April 5 -27 at Club Cafe, 209 Columbus Ave, Boston. Performances are every Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. There is an added show on Thursday, April 25, at 7:30. Tickets are $25 at FreshFruitProductions.com.
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