Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Eve Ensler's Thrilling Performance in
Eve Ensler, who put the word "vagina" into popular usage, is currently appearing in her world premiere solo show Eve Ensler's The Good Body at the Geary Theatre, as ACT's final selection of the current season. The manager is stating that this performance is recommended for audiences 13 and older since it contains some very graphic descriptions of sex acts.
Eve Ensler has moved from a talk on women's vaginas to a talk on women's stomachs. In one of the scenes, she is at a meeting and is hoping that she will not be confronted with "that word" any longer. She says, "I heard that word over and over and over again," as she met with groups. She says she had to think about some other part of the body. She discovered the topic after looking into a mirror and discovering a flabby stomach. "How many hours do I think about my stomach?" she relates. "Not very much," she continues. This started her interviewing women of all cultures and backgrounds who feel compelled to change the way they look in order to fit in, in order to be accepted, in order to be "good." The responses of the diverse women she interviewed are depicted through narratives delivered in locker rooms, cell blocks, boardrooms and bedrooms. Some are very comical and some tragic. Many are memorable, such as the narrative on Ensler's own life as a self-loathing teenager whose father wanted her to be "good." His idea of "good" is that she be quiet, polite and thin.
"Thin" is the popular word for the perfect woman, according to ads on television and billboards. (Through the performance, photographs and movies show the "perfect woman.") Ms. Ensler says that thin is a big part of being good "because it's really about making women disappear, becoming lesser and lesser versions of herself."
Ensler features some fantastically drawn and penetratingly performed characters. Some of the stories are harrowing, such as one of an Afghan woman who enters a restaurant in the Kabul and must be escorted secretly into a back, closed-off room to eat a dish of the forbidden food - vanilla ice cream. If the Taliban found out, she would either be whipped severely or even killed. Another distressing tale tells of an Italian woman's sexual abuse involving her stepfather. One disturbing scene has Eve lying on the stage floor, draped in a white sheet as if just coming from an operation where fat has been removed. This is projected live on a large white screen in the center of the stage while she describes the procedure.
There are comic aspects in her portrayals of some of the characters, such as the African American woman who is at a fat farm describing how she and several of the women sneak out one night to go skinny dipping in the farm's pool. There is a story of a cosmetic surgery patient's romantic affair with her doctor and how she has undergone more than five operations to satisfy the man, and a Puerto Rican woman tells how to have an attractive rear end. There are wonderful stories about being in Bombay at the health gym and how the Indian women stand in line to use the one and only treadmill, and an 83 year-old woman who has had numerous face lifts because when she was young, her mother told her she was not pretty.
The Good Body is a candid, funny, illuminating and shocking portrayal of what women put themselves through to become "good" women. As the artist says, "Can you imagine the energy that would be unleashed if women stopped obsessing about their bodies?" Her last thrilling speech to the audience as herself is riveting. It is a bravura end to her performance.
The Good Body staging is interesting. It is a set of a fashion shoot, with light reflector umbrellas against a vast, white backdrop. A curved screen in the middle of the stage projects the images of a "good, svelte, fashion-conscious" woman. On stage right are four tiers of white theatre seats with one lonely, stark white model mannequin.
The Good Body had its work shop production in Seattle and is still considered to be a work that needs tightening before it goes to the Booth Theatre in New York in September. Undoubtedly, there will be changes before it reaches Broadway.
Eve Ensler's solo show will run through August 1 at the Geary Theatre, 415 Geary St, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
ACT opens its 224-2005 season with Robert Wilson, Tom Waits and William S. Burroughs"s The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets, starring Marianne Faithfull and Matt McGrath. It runs August 25 through September 26.