Theater / Film

Review: A different Gilda Radner confronts mortality in ‘Enter, Grapefruit’

Written By Christine Dolen
December 5, 2023 at 1:12 PM

Charisma Jolly wrote, directed and stars in “Enter, Grapefruit,” a play getting its world premiere in at LakehouseRanchDotPNG through Sunday, Dec. 10. (Photo courtesy of Juan Gamero)

The late actor-comedian Gilda Radner was many things, but if you weren’t around to appreciate her in her heyday, maybe you don’t know much about her showbiz/personal journey.

As a member of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” from 1975 to 1980, she created indelible characters: nerdy Lisa Loopner, hard-of-hearing Emily Litella (whose catchphrase was “never mind” after she’d delivered a genteel rant about some news event she’d misheard), bombastic TV journalist Roseanne Rosannadanna (whose huge hairdo was almost in the shape of a pyramid) and Baba Wawa, an interviewer with a noticeable speech impediment based on the widely admired Barbara Walters, who at first didn’t like the parody one little bit.

Actor-playwright Charisma Jolly stars in the premiere of her play “Enter, Grapefruit.” (Photo courtesy of Juan Gamero)

Radner also waged a nearly lifelong battle with eating disorders. She had relationships with a number of famous men, including a comedy who’s who consisting of Bill Murray and his brother Brian Doyle-Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Martin Short.

Her first marriage, to musician G.E. Smith, didn’t work out, but the love-at-first-sight second one, to actor Gene Wilder, was happy before fate intervened and Radner was diagnosed with the stage IV ovarian cancer that would take her life in 1989 at the age of 42.  Thanks to the charitable efforts of Wilder and others after her passing, Radner posthumously became a significant figure in the fight against ovarian cancer.

“Enter, Grapefruit,” an almost-solo show by Charisma Jolly, doesn’t dwell on Radner’s biography in its LakehouseRanchDotPNG world premiere at Artistic Vibes in Miami.

Instead, Jolly – who wrote, directed and stars in the piece, as well as co-designing the set, lights and costume with stage manager Amanda Hernandez – gives the audience Gilda in a kind of comedian’s purgatory.  That’s in keeping with the company’s dedication to less straightforward, more absurdist/experimental theater.

Just when she gets going, a grapefruit interrupts the show in Charisma Jolly’s world premiere LakehouseRanchDotPNG production “Enter, Grapefruit” at Miami’s Artistic Vibes. (Photo courtesy of Juan Gamero)

When she was in remission during her cancer treatment in the spring of 1988, Radner was to have been the first female former cast member to host an episode of “Saturday Night Live,” but a writers’ strike ended the season early.  In “Enter, Grapefruit,” Jolly imagines that Gilda is getting something like that shot, albeit a nightmarish version of it.

In other words, whatever can go wrong does go wrong.

The fictional stage manager (Carlos Artze) sits on the set until Gilda dismisses him, then when she needs him, he’s nowhere to be found (yes, she even tries the bathroom).  Her nervous chit chat with the audience, meant to warm them up, is often met with silence or reluctant participation, dialing up the character’s unease.  Startling sound effects go off, seemingly at random.

And then there are the grapefruits – seen, hidden, omnipresent.

The title of the show refers to the grapefruit-sized tumor that was removed from Radner after her cancer was initially misdiagnosed, delaying the treatment that might have saved her life.

Symbolic of the illness that took comedian Gilda Radner’s life, grapefruits are everywhere in Charisma Jolly’s world premiere play “Enter, Grapefruit.” (Photo courtesy of Juan Gamero)

What Jolly gets so right in “Enter, Grapefruit” are the realities of living with – while knowing you’ll die from – a terminal illness.  Her Gilda forgets, putting on her tap shoes to entertain us, only to have another grapefruit appear.  A piece of her hair falls out; a grapefruit appears.  Wanting normalcy, the waiting Gilda gets grapefruits.

The closing moments of this half-hour show deliver a graceful ending, one inspired by the way Steve Martin paid tribute to Radner when he was hosting “Saturday Night Live” on the day her death was announced.  He shared an old clip of Radner and himself in a Fred Astaire-Cyd Charisse “Dancing in the Dark” parody. That dance combined elegance and goofiness.

In “Enter, Grapefruit” as Jolly and Artze dance their way offstage, the elegance prevails.

Playing the late Gilda Radner, actor-playwright Charisma Jolly gets ready to tapdance in her world premiere play “Enter, Grapefruit.” (Photo courtesy of Juan Gamero)

Jolly has noted that she wrote this play about an artist who continues to inspire her as a senior project at Florida International University. As a performer, she’s eager to please but skittish, appearing quite young in her pink overalls, white blouse and stylish loafers.  She doesn’t particularly look or sound like Radner, but she conveys the essence of a woman who battled demons even as she became a comedy goddess.

As is, “Enter, Grapefruit” contains plenty of truth. But there’s room for more, maybe with an expansion to 45 minutes or an hour, and using relevant bits of Radner’s biography.

WHAT: World premiere of “Enter, Grapefruit” by Charisma Jolly

WHERE: LakehouseRanchDotPNG production at Artistic Vibes, 8846 SW 129th Terrace, Suite B (second floor), Miami

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 10

COST:  $20 (discounts for students and artists)

INFORMATION: 786-427-4721 or Lakehouseranchpng

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com. 

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