Tony Award-winning playwright Eve Ensler, made famous by her revolutionary Vagina Monologues, takes another bold, beautiful and inspiring step forward with her new play, Emotional Creature. I attended the premier last week at the Berkeley Repertory Theater and was dazzled!
In this extraordinary work Ensler takes her audience on a deeply moving journey through the inner life of adolescent girls and young women. The vehicle: a series of engaging monologues by young women across cultures and continents -- from the "mean girls" at an American high school to a courageous rape survivor in Congo -- we get an inside take on their perilous journey into womanhood. Some segments are searing, even brutal. But, while these young women may be victimized by cultures that try to suppress them and violate them, including our own, they are not mere victims. Indeed they often triumph through amazing strength and an enthralling alchemy -- the ability to turn pain into power.
If, as Shelley suggested, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world," then our playwrights are our revolutionaries. What Vaclav Havel was to communism, playwright Eve Ensler is to feminism -- a courageous champion of the provocative proposition that women are entitled to the same rights to the pursuit of happiness and well-being as men.
First Confession: While I went to honor Eve, I wasn't really looking forward to seeing the play. Why? Honestly, my own adolescence was pure misery, so, a play about that chapter seemed like about as much fun as seeing Death of Salesman after just getting a pink slip.
What can I say? But my expectations were way off. I laughed hard, and then at points cried so deeply, that a stranger next to me offered tissues. It was the fierce and tender women, their fears, their joys and the revelation that life was theirs for the taking that was so thrilling. I think I may have been the first one on my feet when the entire audience rose to give the play and its cast a well-deserved standing ovation as the curtain fell.
Eve's charge is to stop telling girls to play "emotional whack-a-mole" -- suppressing all that is uncomfortable or "unladylike" and instead look at emotions as the great compasses for navigating the world that they can be. Her characters challenge us to see emotions not as unwelcome distractions, but rather indicator lights on our 'dashboard' for living. She pleads,
'Let's celebrate the emotions of young women, and help them turn the power and wisdom of feelings into action.'
Emotional Creature is coming to New York, off-Broadway this fall. So, if you can't get to Berkeley between now and when it closes next month, get yourself to New York.
Who deserves credit for this in addition to Eve, the Obie award-winning director Jo Bonney, the six fabulous young actresses that light up the stage with their talent and energy and the musical director Charl-Johan Ligenfelder? That would be a group of generous women who had the vision, passion and financial fuel to get the play off the ground -- Carole Black, Pat Mitchell, Jane Fonda, Rosario Dawson, Amy Rao and I am sure many others. I could almost hear Annie Lennox singing "Sisters are doin' it for themselves" as I walked out of the theater, having made a new friend out of the woman next to me -- the one who handed me those tissues...
Last Confession: Why did I feel I owed Eve anything? Well, my organization, The Fistula Foundation provides funding to help ensure that women in Congo brutalized by rape and unrelieved obstructed labor get treatment to give them something every woman is entitled to -- a healthy vagina. You see, it was Eve and one of her V-Day team, Purva Panday, who introduced me and one of our board members, Larry William, to Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu Congo. He treats the multitudes of women in this desperate part of the world and has become one of our greatest partners and one of my personal heroes. He proves what we all know; you don't need to be a woman to be a champion of women and girls. Take yourself and a girl or woman you love to see this play. I can't promise you won't shed a tear, or be riveted, but I think I can promise you won't regret going.