"Gossip is like testosterone for women," goes a one-liner in Forbidden Fruit, a new play by Zorian Cross Productions that enjoyed a sold-out weekend at Delhi's Akshara Theatre last week. True to this quote, Forbidden Fruit, written, directed and produced by Zorian Cross, is the rollicking, gossip-fuelled story of six women and their journey to establish authentic selves, fighting off the twin yokes of societal oppression and personal inhibitions. Like Game Night, a previous Zorian Cross Production that Guardian20 had written about last year, Forbidden Fruit, too, relies on wry, fast-paced dialogue. Despite this eagerness to tell and not show, the play fairly races along its 90-odd minutes, aided by some very confident performances.
Forbidden Fruit overcame a major obstacle in the week leading up to the inaugural show last Saturday: Sonamm Sharma, one of the six women cast in the play, went down with a bout of measles. As Cross explained during the curtain call, the rest of the cast urged him to drag up and play the role himself. Eventually, this turned out to be a masterstroke. Cross has the kind of stage presence that cannot be taught. Moreover, he seems to enjoy throwing his voice: one can visualise him at ease with a variety of tenors and accents. On Sunday night, he was electric and it probably helped that the writer of the play was onstage: like a skilled bandleader, he was shepherding proceedings calmly, for the most part.
The first of the six stories was, for this writer, also the most interesting one: the case of a 26-year-old woman who's a virgin because she's convinced she killed off her first serious boyfriend in college; the boy had a heart disease and suffered a coronary during a sexual encounter. Guilt and the prospect of an irredeemable action are powerful motivators. This story felt entirely plausible, even necessary, for the times we live in.
Another plotline followed a woman who, although she's had plenty of boyfriends, has never experienced an orgasm because she's too submissive to a) find out what it feels like via fingering and b) demand said orgasm from her partner. Shaik Sheeba, who played this character, had a memorable solo scene at the end of the story, where two of the other women convince her to finger herself. The scene played out over opera music, as Sheeba mimed a beautiful mixture of surprise, hilarity and ultimately ecstasy. This scene drew generous laughter and applause from the audience, as did quite a few others in the play.
The performance of the night, however, came from Eesha Singh, who played a chubby, unabashedly promiscuous woman using a tough-as-nails exterior to hide her vulnerability. Singh’s character was complex and demanded a great deal of voice modulation and physical acting.
The performance of the night, however, came from Eesha Singh, who played a chubby, unabashedly promiscuous woman using a tough-as-nails exterior to hide her vulnerability. Singh's character was complex and demanded a great deal of voice modulation and physical acting. In one scene, the character describes how she has always been a "pity f**k" for men with girlfriends who are pretty but passive in bed. These men would then return to their girlfriends, once they had enjoyed a passionate and skilled woman's embraces. We'll not spoil future shows for you by revealing her character's fate.
Forbidden Fruit, because of its subject matter and structure, may appear to be close to The Vagina Monologues, but it owes a debt to an altogether different work of art: Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Embroideries, where, among other things, a mother in her forties reveals that she doesn't know what a penis looks like, owing to the fact that her husband had sex with her only to procreate, and that too with the lights off. Satrapi would have been proud of this play.