In The Body Of The World

May 19, 2016

in Performance Art, Plays

Play, Performance Art (2016)

Written and performed by Eve Ensler
Directed by Diane Paulus

American Repertory Theater
Loeb Theater, Harvard University,
Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA
May 10-29, 2016

Set and Costume Design: Myung Hee Cho; Lighting Design: Jen Schriever; Sound Design: M.L. Dogg; Projection Design: Finn Ross; Movement: Jill Johnson

Eve Ensler in 'In The Body Of The World'

Eve Ensler
in “In The Body Of The World”
Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Courtesy of American Repertory Theater

A moving and evocative solo performance piece about illness, environmental disaster, human violence, and hope written and performed Eve Ensler, best known as the author of the highly successful and influential play The Vagina Monologues (1996).

Based on her memoir In The Body Of The World (2013), this amazing performance piece pulls out all the stops for its ninety minute duration. Performed by Eve Ensler herself, it is unrelenting, intense and filled with difficult and frequently overpowering descriptive images.

It would be difficult to convey the whole range of issues that Ensler covers in brief but exceptionally powerful personal medical odyssey cum jeremiad about environmental, interpersonal and sexual violence, but suffice it to say that it coheres in a way that is unexpected but compelling.

Whether she is talking at considerable length about her cancer and its involved and difficult treatment, or about global warming and the relentlessness of the disavowal that this is happening, or about the horrific torture of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Ensler inspired the creation of and supports a humanitarian project for women survivors of violence called City of Joy, it all falls together in a penetrating way.

One of the most intense moments comes when Ensler describes her recovery of in a hospital room from which she can only view a tree, and where she is so worn out and in discomfort that she cannot read, watch television or do anything else. After watching the tree with boredom and distress for days, and finally overcome by its dull and relentless meaninglessness, she all of a sudden wakens and says ‘I finally saw the tree!’ And though it’s a telegraphic, Zen-like, message, she says it with such conviction and passion in a setting she paints with such compelling honesty, one gets a vividly reverberating sense what she means.

After watching the tree with boredom and distress for days, and finally overcome by its relentless meaninglessness, she all of a sudden wakens and says ‘I finally saw the tree!’ And though it’s a telegraphic, Zen-like, message, she says it with such conviction and passion in a setting she paints with such compelling honesty, one gets a vividly reverberating sense what she means.

There is a way in which this moment of realization about the tree signals the core of the piece itself. That we easily tend to inhabit our bodies, and our earth, and to live beside other people, with an ongoing degree of insensitivity, marks the arenas in which opportunities for changes in personal, interpersonal and the political awareness intersect. At the root of the problems, so says Ensler, is this disposition to degrees of callousness in various dimensions, and the way out is to somehow find a way to honestly become open to, and to honestly feel, the pain in oneself, in other people, and in the earth itself.

Ensler bares herself literally and figuratively throughout this performance, and her honesty and vulnerability call forth a direct and vivid response from the audience. When she was finished, the audience leapt to its feet, cheering. Ensler had seemingly touched everyone.

The production values of this show are demonstrably interesting and very high. The set by Myung Hee Cho, which initially looks simple though beautifully designed, turns into a lush magnificence by the end of the evening – magically effective.

As well, projected video designed by Finn Ross, who did the wonderful projections for the fabulous ART production of Matthew Aucoin’s opera Crossing last year, is also persuasive and visually compelling.

Ensler is, apart from being a phenomenally courageous writer and performer, a wonderful actress, as director Diane Paulus noted with particular significance in a few comments after the show. She has natural timing and humor, and she carries off her solo performance of an hour and a half with incredible gusto, conviction and sustained energy.

This is an evening not to be missed. Ensler is incredible, and the show is vivid and important.

In a talkback after this performance, Naomi Klein, the noted Canadian journalist and author of The Shock Doctrine (2007) and, more recently, This Changes Everything (2014) about climate change, and Monique Wilson, a noted actress from the Philippines and the director of One Billion Rising, an organization devoted to creating a mass movement to end violence against women, offered their heartfelt responses to Ensler’s wonderful performance. Stellar personalities themselves, and amazing movers and shakers, their vulnerable and devoted appreciations of Ensler’s revelatory performance was indeed testimony to its compelling honesty and its power.

Talkbacks of this sort, with different guests, will occur throughout the run, accentuating the interactive and community sense the production encourages.

Additionally, after the opening night performance and its talkback, both director and ART Artistic Director Diane Paulus and playwright and actor Eve Ensler gave moving speeches about their commitments to the sorts of change Ensler hopes to effect with her performance art and the larger social mission of theater and art in general. It was a vivid and touching capstone to a memorable evening.

Eve Ensler in 'In The Body Of The World'

Eve Ensler
in “In The Body Of The World”
Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Courtesy of American Repertory Theater

– BADMan

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kendall June 1, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Charlie–You captured this performance beautifully–the power and mobilizing capacity of Ensler to both take on such challenging issues and to make them palpable and actionable for others. A memorable performance that you helped etch further in my mind.

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