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BWW Review: In IN THE BODY OF THE WORLD, What Doesn't Kill Eve Ensler Only Becomes The Subject of Her New Solo Play

"Do you have any idea who I am?," Eve Ensler asks the doctor who suggests radiation treatment of her vagina to prevent the resurgence of her cancer. "Do you have any fucking sense of irony?"

BWW Review: In IN THE BODY OF THE WORLD, What Doesn't Kill Eve Ensler Only Becomes The Subject of Her New Solo Play
Eve Ensler (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Though Ensler's career as a playwright, solo performer and activist for women's rights extends far beyond that one body part, she will forever be known as an important figure in the demystifying of the subject through her groundbreaking piece, THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES.

But in her emotionally uplifting new solo work, In the Body of the World, adapted from her same-titled 2013 memoir, it is both body and soul that are placed center stage.

Directed by Diane Paulus, who commissioned it as artistic director of American Repertory Theater, the playwright who has done extensive humanitarian work in the Congo, helping women not only survive but encouraging them to flourish in a country where violence against them is a part of the national culture, finds herself diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Thus, for 80 minutes of stage time, a woman who has devoted so much of her life focused on crises involving other women and their bodies, must now face the crisis within her own.

This, apparently, is not easy for someone who, abused by her father, has always felt "exiled" from her own body.

"I have tried various routes to get back," she explains. "Promiscuity, anorexia, performance art... I spent time with women in colleges, sex clubs, cafés, refugee camps, and war zones."

Eventually she was invited by a Congolese gynecologist to help with the emotional healing process for girls and women of all ages. The things being done to them are described by Ensler in explicit language better heard from her voice than read here. Her straightforward tone emphasizes the normalcy of such horrors.

But just as her search for an understanding of the political, economic and social landscape of the Congo (and for that matter, America, too) that leads to such patriarchal abusiveness, she searches for reasons, beyond her biological makeup, for her to be stricken with cancer.

"Was it tofu? I ate a lot of fucking tofu... Was it talking too much about vaginas?... Was it my father dying slowly and never bothering to say good-bye?... Was it bad reviews?... Good reviews?... Being reviewed?"

Her self-effacing attitude about her own situation serves as humorous relief, particularly when, "The most handsome doctor in the world comes in to examine my ass."

BWW Review: In IN THE BODY OF THE WORLD, What Doesn't Kill Eve Ensler Only Becomes The Subject of Her New Solo Play
Eve Ensler (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Particularly poignant is the way she describes Rochester, Minnesota as a cancer town, where 30,000 residents primarily earn their income either directly from or as an outgrowth of its major destination, the Mayo Clinic.

In contrast, Ensler's most significant accomplishment in the Congo was to help raise resources to build a City of Joy; "A revolutionary center where they would turn their trauma and pain into power."

While Ensler's story is a unique one, what is thoroughly relatable is her demonstration of the charitable side of humanity, and the downplaying of one's own suffering in order to use your experience to ease the pain of others.

Plan on staying in the theatre for five or ten minutes after the play is done, as designers Myung Hee Cho (set and costume), Jen Schriever (lights), Finn Ross (projections) and M.L. Dogg and Sam Lerner (sound) provide a perfect atmosphere for contemplating our better nature.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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