In the Body of the World
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Theater review by Helen Shaw
Eve Ensler’s superhit The Vagina Monologues has taken her all over the planet for the last 20 years, shouting the truth about injustices against women from Afghanistan and Scarsdale, New York, to colleges in the Midwest and radical collectives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has a dozen plays to her name and started the V-Day foundation, which has sponsored a staggering 13,000 community programs—but The Vagina Monologues is what she’s best known for, now and forever. What should she do, then, when the yonic center of her power comes under attack? The sometimes awkward answer is: Talk about it.
Ensler’s solo show In the Body of the World, adapted from her memoir of the same name, tells a circular kind of tale. It starts on the outside, as a story of her work with the Congolese women’s-leadership initiative City of Joy, but almost immediately spirals inward to her private battle with uterine cancer. Once you come to terms with the idea that Ensler mentions an 80-year-old rape victim as a segue into her own travails, the story moves through a passionate study of the horrors of disease. Ensler feels everything keenly, and she conflates her different pains: a sister’s slight is described in the same tone of shock as her horror at mass incarceration. She cries out at a brusque doctor’s treatment, equating his behavior with stories of actual assaults she has experienced and the lives of women she has known. It’s simultaneously appalling—surely she can hear the narcissism?—and true. This really is what it means to be stuck in a body. It’s the center of your universe, all the time.
Manhattan Theatre Club (Off Broadway). By Eve Ensler. Directed by Diane Paulus. With Ensler. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.