BROADWAY RECALL: Eve Ensler Goes Legitimate
Welcome to BROADWAY RECALL, a bi-monthly column where BroadwayWorld.com's Chief Theatre Critic, Michael Dale, delves into the archives and explores the stories behind the well-known and the not so well-known videos and photographs of Broadway's past. Look for BROADWAY RECALL every other Saturday.
While BroadwayWorld is not a political web site, there are times when art and politics combine to make some of the country’s most interesting off-stage theatre. Recently, the question of basic reproductive biology became a controversial issue when Representative Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee from Missouri, stated that a woman's body was capable of blocking an unwanted pregnancy caused by a “legitimate” rape.
For theatre lovers it was no surprise that Ensler would make a public statement on the matter. Ever since bursting onto the scene in 1996 with The Vagina Monologues, she has arguably become the country’s best known political and social activist through art.
I first saw The Vagina Monologues when she was performing it as a solo piece at the HERE Arts Center. It was still a little-known “downtown thing” at the time, with the author giving voice to a text based on over 200 interviews with women about a subject they’ve rarely been asked to talk about.
What helped make the play a worldwide sensation was its move to Off-Broadway’s Westside Theatre, where it was reconceived as an evening for three actresses who divided the material. Because of the strength of the text, the importance of the subject and the fact that the play was read from scripts, not requiring memorization, it began attracting a parade of celebrity performers, many of whom stayed with the show for only brief stints, attracting their fans to an evening that might not have otherwise been a commercial success.
Today, The Vagina Monologues is such a widely recognizable part of American popular culture that when Michigan State House Representative Lisa Brown was censored for using the word vagina, the natural response was to hold a public performance of the piece on the steps of the state capital. Here’s Ensler rallying the crowd before the performance.
But while The Vagina Monologues is certainly her most popular play, Eve Ensler has contributed many important works to our theatre culture. Broadway audiences saw her in The Good Body, based on her interviews with women regarding body image, and the more traditional Off-Broadway play, The Treatment, explored issues of psychological damage suffered as a result of participating in violent military conflicts.
Here, Ensler discusses her newest work, Emotional Creature, a collection of songs and monologues for and about girls.