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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
EMOTIONAL CREATURE: THE SECRET LIFE OF GIRLS AROUND THE WORLD
at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Square

SONGS OF OPPRESSION
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Ph: Carol Rosegg

OK, let’s admit it. You just feel bad about not liking a play by Eve Ensler. After all, The Vagina Monologues was a landmark in both theater and feminism, ensuring Ensler’s iconic status as frontier-breaking heroine and activist playwright. Yet, sadly, her latest work for the theater, Emotional Creature (based on her 2010 book), feels disappointingly dated and naïve.
 
The play consists of a series of set pieces featuring young women (apparently in their late teens through early 20s) narrating their various experiences in different countries. One is an American girl (Molly Carden) who seems pathologically afraid of exclusion from her school’s in-crowd, to the point of turning her back on the one friend she truly likes. Another features a young woman (Joaquina Kalukango) abducted and held sexual prisoner by a soldier in the Congo, who relates her horror in a series of “rules” for other such captives. Another spotlights a young American woman (Emily Grosland) who either fantasizes or enacts (hard to tell) a bloody scene in the wedding dress she sees as a symbol of her parents’ traditional values. Still another centers on a girl from Tehran (Sade Namei) telling us how much happier she was being funny, rather than pretty, until the nose job her parents forced on her ruined it all. Juxtaposed with such scenes, most of which feature the girls enduring or reacting to various forms of oppression, are intervals of highly energized song and dance. Perhaps it’s meant to signify these women’s resilience and strength in the face of adversity, but the ultimate effect is a bit bewildering, and even off-putting.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m from the generation that was raised on “Free to Be … You and Me,” so girl-power skits illustrating oppression and empowerment to a bright, musical accompaniment is as native to me as breathing. But while Marlo Thomas’ project allowed for complexity and nuance, Ensler’s skits are intensely didactic and often predictable. Did anyone doubt that the woman who felt so shy about asking her boyfriend to use a condom (Olivia Oguma) would ultimately prevail? Is there any way the story of the Bulgarian girl forced into adolescent prostitution could turn out well? And the very scope of Ensler’s stories begs the question of just how similar these forms of oppression are. However traumatic not getting a seat at the high school lunch table may feel at the time, it’s not really on a par with being sold by your family into prostitution. And even the stories that are a little more surprising, like that of the Chinese girl (Oguma) working in the Barbie factory, who whispers dreams of insurrection into the head of each doll she sends out into the world, lack the power to engage and empower the audience the way the earlier kids’ show did.
 

The actresses are charming and frantically energized as they try to put these scenarios over, and many of them do good work in their individual monologues, like Oguma  and Namei. But they’re limited by the format, and by the movie-of-the-week extremism that detracts from so many of the tales. However true they undoubtedly are, the pileup of trauma makes them feel false—or at least forced. And the overwrought sense of drama doesn’t allow for the recognizable ring of truth that made The Vagina Monologues such a success, as art and as activism.

 


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