Playwright, performer and activist Eve Ensler has had a busy week. Monday saw her on the steps of Michigan’s Capitol overseeing a flash-theatre production of her famous play The Vagina Monologues with silenced and rebuked State representative Lisa Brown, who had dared to say the word “vagina” during a house debate on reproductive rights. Next there were talk show appearances. Then last night there was the world premiere of her dynamic new show Emotional Creature where the word “vagina,” not to mention “clitoris” was celebrated in a really big and powerful way.
The show exemplifies the spirit and heart of Ensler’s best-selling book “I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World,” shedding light on the joys and challenges as well as the violence faced by girls across the globe. Playing now through July 15 at the cutting edge Berkeley Repertory Theater, “Emotional Creature” is a theatrically lit match that will light a fire in your heart and has the potential to spark a girl revolution. Hodges and Hodges (Nick and Linda) were there to experience the energy as the dazzling ensemble of amazingly talented girls took the stage.
Linda, why don’t you start us out?
Thanks, Nick. What’s striking is that the stories being shared have been compiled by Ensler as she traveled the world talking to girls. They were eager to share their joys and travails with her and she bears witness to their stories in Emotional Creature. The diverse ensemble cast of six young actresses representing girls from around the world has unbounded energy and talent. The repression that they talk about ran from what girls think to what they say; from what they wear to who gets to control their bodies – it’s certainly not them. Ensler captures this surfeit of struggles magnificently in monologues that are punctuated with soaring songs (lyrics by Ensler and Music by Charl-Johan Ligenfelder) and spirited dance (choreographer Luam) that celebrate the emotionality of girls everywhere.
The set design by Myung He Cho was simple, effective, and gave off a nightclub feel. The interlocking circular platforms gave the actresses room to move and the light panels at their base added techno style throughout the show. Behind them was a massive curved projection screen where designer Shawn Sagady released her creative energy in support of the stories, adding movement, mood, passion and pain. As a trans girl (Emily S. Grosland) speaks, there are stars falling from the sky and when a young woman (Joaquina Kalukango) makes her way to the top of a summit to pray for her clitoris to be spared from the knife, there is a dazzling sunrise.
Perhaps the most disturbing (and effective) projection was that of a series of malevolent male eyes that were used as the backdrop to a story of continuous rape and the subsequent abandonment that happened to one young girl.
I agree that these powerful images were very moving. Ensler also used comedy quite effectively to talk about the way girls obsess about being thin. In an ensemble piece about an online site called the Hunger Blog, girls share secrets on how to stop themselves from eating. One desperate girl pours bleach on her pizza and this “tip” is seized upon by all the rest. Here they speak readily of their anorexia therapists and the pain of gaining a pound.
There were lighter moments that still drove home deadly points. We hear from a pre-teen Chinese girl named Chang Ying (a poignant Olivia Oguma) who has worked in a Barbie factory since the age of five. She’s one of the workers who make Barbie’s head. Twelve hours a day she works and she’s found a little-girl-way to get messages out to the world through a method she calls “head send.” She thinks very hard and infuses Barbie’s head with a thought that the outside world will hopefully hear. “There are a billion Barbies in the world,” she says. “Imagine if we freed them….Imagine if they went from makeover to takeover….Head Send: Free Barbie…Head Send: Free Chang Ying!”