VOLUME 3, ISSUE 344 | October 28 – November 3, 2004
THE GOOD BODY
The Booth Theatre
222 W. 45th St.
Mon.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. 2 p.m.
Previews begin Oct. 22, opens Nov. 16
$80 at 212-239-6200
$46 at broadwaybox.com
If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another
Eve Ensler in her latest solo show puts laser feminist focus on her stomach
The walls of her Chelsea apartment are a brilliant glossy Chinese red. Her suit, from India, was bright orange silk. Her hairdo was that of 1930s vamp Louise Brooks, Her toenails, on the day of this interview, were passion-candy pink. Eve Ensler didn’t, at that particular moment, look what you would really call oppressed.
“You know,” she said, “oppression just manifests itself differently. When you’re insidiously oppressed by capitalism, it’s a whole other thing.
“In the course of my work I flew from Los Angeles, where women were tightening their vaginas and trimming their labia at a Vagina Laser Rejuvenation Center––and paying for it––flew from there to Kenya, where women were trying to stop female genital mutilation.
“So tell me — who’s oppressed?”
Ensler’s new play, the one that brings the Vagina Monologist to Broadway, no less, dramatizes testimony from women in Los Angeles, New York City, Puerto Rico, Italy, Rio de Janeiro, Africa, India, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It’s called “The Good Body,” and it is performed, as was “The Vagina Monologues” in its 1996 Off-Broadway debut, by the playwright herself, solo.
The raison d’être of “The Good Body” is conveyed right in its opening words, among them, these: “Women I meet everywhere generally hate one particular part of their bodies. They spend most of their lives fixing it, shrinking it. They have medicine cabinets with products devoted to transforming it. They have closets full of clothes that cover or enhance it.
“What I can’t believe”––Ensler says directly to the audience––”is that I, a radical feminist for nearly 30 years, could spend this much time thinking about my stomach. It has become my tormentor, my distractor; it’s my most serious committed relationship.”
And there is also this: “Saying the word vagina vagina vagina vagina a million times [during her own performance of the earlier piece], I thought I was home free. I had finally come to love my vagina. Until one day I realized the self-hatred had just crept up into my stomach.”
In the building where she has lived for most of those same 30 years, Ensler said, of the new villain in the piece, her tummy: “Well, Jerry, it [the focus of aggravation] shifted. One day I just happened to look down, and there it was.”
A motion of the hand indicated the anatomical area that, to an unbiased visiting observer, is neither too large nor too anything except quite normally attractive. If you like women, you have to, generally speaking, like their stomachs.
“I’m 51,” Eve Ensler said. “My body started changing when I reached my 40s, and I got in a panic. I spent hours and hours and hours of my time on diet and exercise and clothes––every single thing that surrounds the stomach––and it wasn’t working!
“What I learned is, the more you’re obsessed, the more you’re obsessed. Which is why this beauty-industrial complex is such a thing of genius. It’s why women in this country are spending $40 billion a year on beauty products.
“If you spend all your time and money on beauty products, you won’t be running the world. It’s a capitalistic distraction, and keeps women hooked on this hate-myself, consume, hate-myself, consume treadmill. If women actually loved their bodies, how much more energy and time and money we would have to enter into power in the world. Or, looked at another way, to get elected.”
In the play, Ensler speaks the words of Isabella Rossellini, actress, model, former Lancôme spokesperson:
“I wasn’t meek in the photographs, no. I knew how to express assertiveness. I knew the glamour of strong women who did what they wanted to do. Like Kahlo, Magnani, like Callas. I could do that in the photographs.
“The corporation accepted it––until I got stronger than the cräme they were selling to make women better. The cräme is the star, they said, not Isabella Rossellini. They sent me so many flowers on my 40th birthday, I knew I was dead.”
Fired at 40, “at the height of her prime,” said pink-toed Ensler, “in fantastic shape.”
From the play, Ensler speaking the words of Helen Gurley Brown:
“Seven, eight, nine. Eve, dear, come in pussycat. Give me a second. 99, 100. [Stops, sits up.] Eighty years old, 100 sit-ups twice a day. I’m down to 90 pounds. Another ten years, I’ll be down to nothing. But even then I won’t feel beautiful. I accept this terrible condition. It’s driven me to be disciplined and successful. Through Cosmo I’ve been able to help women everywhere . Everyone but me.
“Come on in, Eve, let’s get cozy. Help yourself to some pumpkin seeds, dear, they’re toasted. Don’t get things fixed, Eve, don’t do it. If you do, another thing always breaks down.”
The apartment next door to Ensler’s is her office and the office of V-Day, the worldwide movement on behalf of women that was born, so to speak, out of the vagina of those monologues. In the past seven years, V-Day has raised $26 million to fight rape, incest, genital mutilation, domestic battery and sexual battery everywhere in the world.
Five years ago, Ensler began a journal “of what my stomach was saying, and what I was saying to my stomach, back and forth. And as my work took me around the world, I would talk with women about what obsessed them.
“Out of this, I started to create monologues that fit the story I wanted to tell. And, yes, I wanted to perform this story in particular because it’s my own story, my own journey. Also because it is a play in many more ways than “The Vagina Monologues.”
The director of “The Good Body” is Peter Askin, whose work greatly impressed Ensler when she went to see “ Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
In “The Vagina Monologues,” Ensler sat on a stool and read from cards. Now, on Broadway, at the Booth, there will be no stool, no cards. As Geraldine Page once said to an intrusive civilian in a wholly other context, “That’s acting!”