Queenstown Arts Centre, Queenstown

22/10/2014 - 22/10/2014

Playhouse Theatre, Dunedin

17/10/2014 - 19/10/2014

BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

07/10/2014 - 11/10/2014

Refinery Artspace, Nelson

25/10/2014 - 26/10/2014

Mahara Gallery, Waikanae

14/10/2014 - 15/10/2014

Production Details

A one woman theatre piece direct from New York

“When a naked woman speaks you tend to pay attention.” – New York Theatre Review

This October the award-winning New York production of Human Fruit Bowl will come to New Zealand, premiering at BATS in Wellington and going on to Waikanae, Arts Festival Dunedin, Queenstown and Nelson Arts Festival.

Part story, part mystery and part history, the show takes the form of a life modelling class. The audience is invited to sketch during the show and post their drawings on the Human Fruit Bowl Facebook page.

In Andrea Kuchlewska’s play, actor Harmony Stempel recounts her own experiences as a life model, discusses the relationship between artists and models, and in particular tells the story of French impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard and his muse Rene Monchaty, who (supposedly) killed herself in the bath after Bonnard married another woman.

This production was first performed at Prague Fringe Festival where it won the prestigious ‘Creative Award’ for best production, and was also selected by the Amsterdam Fringe as ‘Best of Prague Fringe at Amsterdam Fringe’. Since then it has played the NYC Fringe, winning ‘Overall Excellence Award’, Pennsylvania and Hong Kong.


“Human Fruit Bowl rivets its audience” – Theatre Mania (US)

 “written so cleverly and richly, performed with such artful panache, and directed with ease and subtlety by Jessi D. Hill, deserves to be seen by art lovers – and by that I men lovers of the arts – everywhere.” – (US)

“Absolutely gripping…utterly compelling.” – ExpatsCZ (Czech Republic)

Tour Details 

October 7-11,
BATS Theatre (Out of Site) Corner Dixon and Cuba Streets, Wellington 
6.30pm, tickets via 

October 14-15,
Mahara Gallery, Waikanae
7.00pm, for tickets call the gallery on 04 902 6242 or

October 17-19,
Playhouse Theatre, Arts Festival Dunedin.
8.00pm, tickets via

October 22,
Queenstown Arts Centre
7.00pm, tickets via

October 25-26,
Refinery Artspace, Nelson Arts Festival
9.00pm, tickets via

Three Bridges is a new New Zealand production company that tends to specialise in high quality small-scale theatre. Their first NZ project was creating the site-specific Found Tales for the 2013 Nelson Arts Festival. They were previously based in Hong Kong and known as HK Microfest. Work there included international tours of Perrier winning Dr Brown, Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman, Unesco Gran Prix winner Pip Utton, and productions of Dr Faustus, Address Unknown and Chekhov’s The Sneeze.


Review by Janet Whittington 27th Oct 2014

My first thought regarding this show is about the choice of venue. What’s wrong with the Theatre for a play? Answer: Atmosphere is everything. At the end of the sold out of the show I laugh at myself. Of course this play should run in an art gallery. It is about the construction of art, artists and their tools; particularly the human kind. 

We even get the chance to join in with a sketch pad and pencil placed in our hands as we enter the main gallery, filled with seats. A few sketch, but most prefer to keep their talents wrapped around their wine glasses. 

This is a one hour, one person play. Fortunately it is written in New York. I find New Yorkers have the art of the monologue down to ‘a fine art?’ Harmony Stempel plays the part of a nude model and the conversation is her stream of consciousness. The writer Andrea Kuchlewska has the knack for this in spades. I hope she writes more plays. It would be a pity to lose her after this fine display of talent in language. She fluctuates the audience with her in a tidal wave of emotion as the themes unroll before us.

The monologue often takes the form of constant repetitions, as if re-playing in her head, adding new information on at the end of each repetition. Not boring, but merely keeping the audience up with the ‘play’ as she muses on different aspects of past artistic lives, their models and muses. The conversation remains interesting and engaging for the mind of the audience, as she skips between several different threads of thought.  

Consequently I learn a lot about the particular post-impressionists the model has seen at the Metropolitan Art Gallery. We also become familiar with her life, her working career to date, her flat, work options for dancers in New York, and her friends. In particular she takes us through the minutiae of posing, financial recompense for this and the pros and cons of each. Enough, in fact for the audience to learn whether her current choice of career would suit us.   

Personally I like a play with all the loose ends tidied up and a twist at the end that leaves a lasting impression. This play delivers this in a way that will spoil the end for you if I tell all. From all the larger public, historical and ethereal themes, the last two sentences unexpectedly bring it back to the personal. The audience applaud smiling at the warmth of the last few lines.

This play is top of my list of top ten plays seen in the last few years. Everyone leaves chatting about it and loving it.


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Plenty to draw, muse on during stark performance

Review by Barbara Frame 18th Oct 2014

“Would you like to draw this evening?” asks the usher, handing me some A4 and a nice new 4B. I can’t draw, but I say yes. 

The actress comes onstage wearing a red bathrobe, which she will soon take off, and starts telling us about being a life model. The crucial things are having a comfortable pose that can be maintained for long periods of time, and, the real challenge, not moving. These she demonstrates over the next hour, both in and out of the onstage claw-foot bath.

She intersperses mental to-do lists with memories of how she got into the job after failing as a waitress, and an exploration of the relationships between famous artists and their models or muses, focusing on Pierre Bonnard’s lover Renee Monchaty, who may or may not have committed suicide in the bath in which Bonnard painted her.

She also discusses the fact that being an artist’s model isn’t usually regarded as a real job, and describes how this pay-the-bills occupation has led her to appreciate and love the world of art.

Andrea Kuchlewska’s play is a gem, and Harmony Stemple plays her character with matter-of-fact charm, staying very still when required to and using her voice and eyes to convey a warmly sympathetic personality. This is intimate, delightful and highly effective theatre.

After a while, I realise I’m not drawing anything, and I look around (the house lights have been left on) to see what other audience members are doing. One person is doodling assiduously, but not in a way that looks like art. Others, though, are producing detailed, accomplished drawings. I leave with my paper still blank. 


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Naked in a room

Review by Hannah Molloy 18th Oct 2014

The Playhouse Theatre fills slowly with a diverse crowd finding their erratically numbered seats and settling in, clutching pads and pencils, some unsure what to do with them, others launching straight into a work of art. The inspiration, a scuffed black stage, sparse, with just a bath, a wooden chair, a blue scarf, a red apple and a water bottle.

Quietly and with no fanfare or dimming of the house lights, Harmony Stempel takes her seat, dressed in a red (polar fleece?) dressing gown and starts writing in a notebook, not acknowledging the audience until a timer goes off and she stands and with an equal lack of fanfare or warning, takes off her robe and launches into her hour-long soliloquy as a Human Fruit Bowl.

This play is simply the story of an artist’s model, “naked in a room”, essentially alone with her thoughts. She lists things: things she has to do, shopping, her knowledge of art, painter and model pairings, and facts about post-impressionist and avant garde painter Pierre Bonnard and his relationships with his wife Marthe de Méligny and muse and mistress Renée Moncharty.

Stempel’s train of thought meanders in and out of the practicalities of posing, her day-to-day life and the life of Bonnard and the lack of verifiable information about the supposed suicide of Moncharty. At times, this is simply a stream of consciousness but much is actually directed to the audience, almost like an art history lecture. I learnt a lot about a small period of early 20th century art and it inspired me to go looking for more when I came home.

Stempel’s poses are graceful and composed although I am sure she must be chilly – the Playhouse isn’t exactly a cosy venue and the rain drumming on the roof outside adds to a sense of sitting in an artist’s garret. She makes eye contact with individual audience members, seeming to address her commentary and rhetorical questions to them, without in any way making anyone feel awkward or put on the spot.

The narrative contains a great deal of repetition, of phrases and facts, of language and moods, perhaps intended to portray the deeply boring work of an artist’s model – sitting still for 20 minutes, only allowed to blink and breathe would pall very quickly I think and one couldn’t be blamed for having repetitive and disjointed thought processes.

There were comedic elements too, with the audience’s laughter containing a feeling of release from the tension of ‘what might happen when we have to look at a naked woman talking for an hour’. Her persona was ditzy, with a short attention span and easily distracted from her train of thought, but also clear-minded and feisty when recalling dialogue with others. She’s not a woman to be trifled with and most definitely a woman who will find out and make up her own mind, giving the character a depth that she might otherwise have lacked.

The projection onto the back wall of the paintings Stempel references adds another dimension to the work as well.  They really are quite stunning, many of them I hadn’t seen before (having never heard of Bonnard before reading the Arts Festival Dunedin programme…) and some that I know and love.

With no soundtrack and little in the way of lighting – even the house lights didn’t go down at all until the very last moment of the performance – this play really was just Stempel and she carried it beautifully.

A naked woman is just a naked woman after all. Unless she’s standing on a stage, telling you a story. Then, as the New York Theatreview said, “you tend to pay attention”.


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Delightful, witty, intelligent, charmingly infectious

Review by Deborah Eve Rea 08th Oct 2014

Simplicity is a difficult treasure to mine, both in theatrical composition and in performance. Through Human Fruit Bowl’s device of a life-drawing session, New York’s Harmony Stempel can only connect to her directly-addressed audience through the minuscular, relying only on eye movement and nuance for the majority of the performance.

Our unnamed model, has “a lot of time to think” during her life-modelling sessions. Through a mixture of storytelling and shared inner-monologue, Human Fruit Bowl flickers in and out of the character’s biography and the biographies of artists and their muse. 

The subject most discussed is Renee Monchaty who was a model (and partner) of artist Pierre Bonnard. Particularly explored is Monchaty’s suicide and the assertions, even romantifications, of facts surrounding it. 

The narrative of Human Fruit Bowl follows the protagonist’s journey from discovery to fascination of art and art history. The analysis of paintings, artists and stories are daydreamed before projected images of the works.

Stempel’s engagement is delightful, witty, intelligent and charmingly infectious.

I am completely new to art history and have had my eyes opened to a whole new fascinating world which I’m excited to discover more. 

Human Fruit Bowl also provides pencils and sketchpads to audience members to use from their seats throughout the performance. Hearing the scratchings of lead on paper in the room is quite magical. 

The nature of Human Fruit Bowl leads me to be curious about the subject of this piece: both Andrea Kuchlewska (playwright) by Harmony Stempel and Jessie D. Hill (director) and, of course, Harmony Stempl by Jessi D Hill and Andrea Kuchlewska.

Human Fruit Bowl concludes with the thoughts of our life model left unresolved, leaving me to my own musings of the muse. As I write this review, my mind is still busy with many new delights taken away from the performance. 

I’m looking forward to making a return trip to Human Fruit Bowl, this time swapping my reviewer notebook for an artists’ pad.


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