Eleanor Igwe ‘17
Playwright and novelist Emily H. Atkinson’s play “Fruit in Winter” engrossed the audience during the reading on a weeknight in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre. Atkinson, in addition to being a Northampton-based writer, is also a graduate student in the MFA program. Atkinson is a Smith alum who studied English and Anthropology in her undergrad before getting a biological anthropology degree from Cambridge University.
During the question and answer session afterwards, Atkinson shared that as an undergrad, she worked in the Kahn Institute with German Studies professor Joel Westerdale. The two were trying to understand the motivations of a character when Westerdale quipped, “One should not underestimate the importance of fruit in winter.” Atkinson appreciated the elegance of its phrasing and its metaphorical value and kept the quote in her memory until the title eventually met its perfect play.
The college experience is undoubtedly channeled into the hearts of the characters, especially the main character Audrey Fisher, who is played admirably by Atkinson’s fellow MFA student Lyssandra Norton. Atkinson imbues her main character with the widely relatable angst that many students feel about whether the paths they are on will lead to happiness and contentment.
A sort of modernized adaptation of “Doctor Faustus,” the play opens with a 48-year-old Audrey waiting out the last few hours before her reckoning (and agreed-upon descent into Hell). She tries to enjoy some peace but it keeps on being interrupted by her witty demon companion Melody, played by Kathryn Blakeslee ’13. There is then a flashback to 24-year-old graduate student Audrey and to the circumstances under which she traded her soul.
It turns out that it is mostly boredom that leads Audrey to sell her soul. After a conversation with her medical student roommate Olivia Donnelly, played by Alexandrea Therese ’17, about Audrey’s unfulfilled dream to be a published writer and her fear that even becoming a successful writer would not be enough to make her happy, Audrey heads to the woods to summon a demon. Melody, who happens to sense the presence of somebody who is willing to relinquish their soul, overhears the incantation and stops to talk to her. She does not jump carelessly or thoughtlessly into the deal and is full of questions for the seductive demon, but ultimately decides that accomplishing her goal is worth eternal damnation.
A few months down the line, Audrey’s writing has been getting good reviews and she is in London for a signing, when she meets and becomes enamored with graduate student Julia Hamilton, played by Kerry Ditson. Afraid that Julia would not be able to love her with the darkness inside her (alluding not just to the deal, but to Audrey’s ongoing sense that she is too intense, withdrawn and generally unpleasant to ever be loved, in particular by someone as kindhearted and pure as Julia), Audrey asks Melody to mask these qualities from her love interest.
After a few years, Julia and Audrey are now married and living in a very small town in France. They remain very much in love, but the strain of demonic interference on top of natural cracks in the relationship becomes the crux of a crisis.
This particular reading, directed by Atkinson herself, was staged with some ambiguity as to whether Sophie Herreid ’17 was reading the stage directions as herself or as Lucifer, a touch that was surely appreciated by meta-lovers in the audience. The story delves into themes of isolation, love and ambition while peppering in humorous exchanges. “Fruit in Winter” is a must-see for anybody struggling with what to do with their ambitions, desires and hopes for the future.