A Lesson in Art History – The Human Fruit Bowl

Review from Fringe Festival Praha 2011

Showing at Divadlo Kampa (Nosticova 2A, Malá Strana), The Human Fruit Bowl is a one-woman show that explores the relationship between the artist and the artist´s model.  The play focuses particularly on the painter/model pairing of Pierre Bonnard and Renee Monchaty. Renee (allegedly) killed herself in a bathtub after Bonnard married another woman.

Even as someone who has a limited knowledge of art history, I found Harmony Stempel´s performance absolutely gripping.  It is striking how calm, detached and very very still she manages to remain when, as she says herself ‘it is totally weird to be naked in the middle of a room´.

The play explores the vulnerability yet power of the artist´s muse and model.  Looking at Saskia and Rembrandt, Maar and Picasso, Lupe Marin and Diego Rivera and focusing on the lives (and deaths) of Renee Monchaty & Pierre Bonnard, it asks what is the artist´s role in the life of a model?  What is the model´s role in the biography of an artist?

Stempel was utterly compelling and gave real force and gravitas to Andrea Kuchlewska´s fantastically interesting and seemingly well-researched monologue.  I imagine that Stempel is also a very capable artist´s model as, in the 20 minutes ‘posing´ sections (Stempel´s delivery of this role echoes the ‘twenty minutes on, five minute break´ sequence of a real artists model), she stays incredibly still aside from talking.  The odd thing is that the dialogue is so emotive; you almost don´t notice the stillness.  

I found Stempel´s performance incredibly brave. Not only was she naked, or wrapped loosely in a gown, but in the ‘break´ sections, she was also completely silent.  Checking her phone or eating an apple, Stempel ‘lived´ the five minute break as if in a studio, leaving her audience on the edge of their seats, hardly daring to breathe until Stempel herself broke the silence.  If it takes nerves to get up on stage, naked, and recite a monologue, it takes real talent to sit in silence.   

A really interesting and unusual performance, delivered beautifully.

The Human Fruit Bowl runs May 27-30 20.30 and 31 May to 4 June at 17.30 at Divadlo Kampa. For the full Fringe programme and further details go to the Fringe website. Tickets for each performance cost 150 CZK. For the keen beans amongst you, a value pack of five vouchers for 600 CZK might be just the ‘ticket´. Students presenting a valid student ID card are able to get cheap, last minute tickets for 50 CZK, from 30 minutes before start of the show. Advance tickets are available from Ticketstream.


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