Fresh Fruit is Back — Fresher Than Ever with New Revue

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Wednesday October 9, 2019

When Fresh Fruit burst on the Boston theatrical scene nearly 20 years ago, they had the shock of the outrageous. Their cutting satiric style, coupled hilarious and ingenious costuming and some of the funniest videos this side of Varla Jean Merman, made them something of bad boys in the Boston theater community. Who can forget their take on "P'town" to the tune of "Downtown?" (When you click on the link on YouTube, this warning appears: "This video may be inappropriate for some users;" which only can make you think, they must be doing something right.)

The troupe consisted of Michael Gaucher, Rodney VanDerwarker, Walter Hildner and Peter Gaioni when they stopped performing six years ago, though Gaucher continued in their tradition with his parodies for Bitter Bitch Productions that have been performed in recent seasons at Boston's Club Café, including "The Menopausal Mermaid" and "Golden Girls: The Lost Episode."

But this week marks the return of Fresh Fruit, if in a bit reconfigured with a new show called "Fresh Fruit is Born Again." The seasoned Fruits are taking roles behind the scenes — writing, directing and creating those fabulous frocks, with a cast of new Fruits performing at Club Café. The new Fruits — Patty Bourrée, Scott Kearnan, Jaryd Towlson, and Brian Washburn, with Joshua Roberts, an alum of Bitter Bitch's "Golden Girls," taking the role of artistic manager.

"Fresh Fruit Is Born Again" will be performed at Club Cafe, 209 Columbus Ave in Boston Ma, on select Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays from October 11 to November 23, 2019.

For more information, visit the Bitter Bitch Productions website.

One reason for the troupe's return is the contentious times we are living through are ripe for parody. "The world is screaming for this again," Gaucher told Boston Spirit magazine recently.

"It's like a live reality show going on in politics; it couldn't be more absurd," VanDerwarker told Spirit. "If those freaks didn't have their finger on the nuclear button, it would be funny how ridiculous it is."

So expect the President to be lampooned, along with such more queer topics as gay bars in the age of hook-up sites, body obsession and the risk of STIs in this age of new sexual freedom. And expect an appearance by the Virgin Mary as you have never seen her before.

EDGE spoke to Gaucher recently about Fruits' return.

The Virgin Mary as what?

EDGE: How did this reunion come about?

Michael Gaucher: "Fresh Fruit Is Born Again" is not so much of a reunion as a revival. Rodney and I were having a glass of wine and lamenting that Fresh Fruit was no longer in existence to take advantage of the current madness constituting or federal government. The lower the bottle got the more excited we became about bringing the show back to give voice to the irony and lunacy coming from Washington every day. That isn't to say the show focuses solely on politics. Social commentary abounds regarding body obsessed gays, impossible rents, and the dangers of oral sex. All kinds of relevant stuff.

EDGE: Will the show be similar in format to your earlier shows?

Michael Gaucher: The show format is very similar to past shows. Why mess with a winning equation? Musical song and dance parodies abound along with some audience interaction. The show takes place in the Moonshine space at Club Café where audience members can enjoy a nosh and a cocktail before, during, or after the show.

EDGE: You certainly put on eye-filling shows largely thanks to your enormously clever costuming. Can we expect more of the same?

Michael Gaucher: What would Fresh Fruit be without its over the top costuming? Rodney Vanderwarker has taken the over reigns, and the sewing machine, from original costumer Walter Hildner to create some truly amazing pieces. Ever wonder what the Virgin Mary might look like as a Go-Go dancer or Venus de Milo as a sex therapist? Come find out!

Subversive commentary

EDGE: When you look back, was there a favorite Fresh Fruit moment?

Michael Gaucher: Rodney and Peter had just finished a number in which they portrayed Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. The next number that followed was a bathhouse scene in which the whole cast was outfitted in towels. During the necessary quick costume change, Rodney forgot to take off his Judy Garland wig and entered the bathhouse scene. Peter, without missing a beat, said, "What are you doing here, Judy?" and grabbed the wig and threw it off stage. It's those types on impromptu moments and playfulness that makes a Fresh Fruit live performance special.

EDGE: Fresh Fruit is unique because in the best possible way, you have been a group of gay guys with something to say and wanted to do so in drag. Where did this come from?

Michael Gaucher: It is interesting to think about the origins of Fresh Fruit through the current lens of drag acceptance. When Fresh Fruit started drag was truly subversive and gay culture was still strictly the province of gay people. You may have the random good girlfriend go to the club with you, but the world of drag and gay were still on the fringe of society. The Fruits, immersed as they were in gay culture, gravitated to drag because it was the predominant vehicle for gay performers — but they updated it by singing about current political and social phenomenon — much like the original cabaret performers before standards became the norm. Subversive commentary through a gay identified art form is what Fresh Fruit is all about.

Up to their old tricks

EDGE: How did you find your new members?

Michael Gaucher: We called up all our old tricks. That's a lie. Our recruitment took a variety of formats including acting web sites and personal networks. I had worked with Bran before and knew his singing and dancing would be a definite addition to the show. Jaryd came to us via a happenstance conversation at Club Café where he is a server. Scott Kearnan, with his wit and community standing, had always been someone with whom we wanted to work — and Patty... she held us at gunpoint until we allowed her to join.

EDGE: What topics will you cover in the new show?

Michael Gaucher: The most obvious answer is politics! Fresh Fruit has always been politically minded, and this show will be no different. We have numbers specifically dedicated to Trump and "fake news," Ivanka and social services, Kellyanne Conway's aversion to the truth, and a Conway / Huckabee Sanders duet about their favorite boss. We're also exploring the ridiculous real estate prices in Boston, the conundrum of a virgin birth, and the potential dangers of oral sex.

EDGE: How do you come up with your parodies?

Michael Gaucher: Parodies occur two different ways; either they are song driven or content driven. For example, one of Fresh Fruit's parodies about the three current female justices on the Supreme Court was content driven. We knew we wanted to write a number about the women on the highest court, and started to think about songs/ ideas in which that content would fit. Other times the parody is more informed by the song — as was the case with our version of Kelly Clarkson's — the title of which just happens to sound like "He's Two Inches Long." We weren't looking to write a number about an anatomically challenged male, but once you make that kind of connection how can you say no?

A unique space

EDGE: What niche do you think Fresh Fruit fits in the ever-expanding drag world?

Michael Gaucher: Fresh Fruit occupies, if not a unique space, then a very select one. Many local drag shows excel at lip synch and individual performances as opposed to group numbers. Although we do have solo numbers, Fresh Fruit has always relied on multiple people on stage at the same time, which means much more intentional choreography and blocking. We also have a history of live singing, something that is less prevalent in standard drag performances. And it is this live singing that allows us to create song parodies that focus on topical social and political content. Our numbers have a much shorter shelf life — our numbers about Governor Mitt Romney are no longer relevant — but at the time they were performed they spoke to the current situation in a way other drag performances could not.

EDGE: And what do you think of the explosion of drag in the past few years?

Michael Gaucher: Who knew drag would become such a mainstream cultural phenomenon? I have young, young, young nieces and nephews tongue popping a la Alyssa Edwards! Thank you, Ru Paul! In some ways I think the drag explosion is great. Let's give the hard working queens more access to venues and audiences that can recognize their finely honed talents. On the flip side of that coin, however, there is percentage of performers who believe being a drag queen is putting on a pretty dress and collecting dollars. Listen to me, people. Drag is more than looking good in pumps. It's practice. It's intentional performances with specific choreography. And it's standing out in a crowd that's getting more and more crowded every day.

EDGE: You will be performing around Halloween — anything special along those lines?

Michael Gaucher: It's a happy coincidence that our theme of rebirth coincides with a holiday focused on the dead. We don't have any numbers specifically dedicated to Halloween, but our set (designed by Raymond Carroll) is essentially a graveyard, complete with a mausoleum and headstones. Of course it wouldn't be a Fresh Fruit production without taking conventions, even death, and turning it on its head, but to see how that's represented in the set you'll have to come and see the show.

"Fresh Fruit Is Born Again" will be performed at Club Cafe, 209 Columbus Ave in Boston Ma, on select Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays from October 11 to November 23, 2019.

For more information, visit the Bitter Bitch Productions website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].