Eve Ensler’s “In the Body of the World” At City Center, Sunday, March 18th, 2018, Reviewed
In theory, Eve Ensler is just about everything that puts me to sleep in one tightly wound package of self-absorption personified by the obsessive, extremely successful one woman show “The Vagina Monologues”. In 2010, Eve opened the “City Of Joy” in the Congo for female survivors of rape and violence with money she made from her monologues. Shortly before it opened in May of that year, a huge tumor was discovered in Eve’s uterus and she lost part of her own vagina (along with her uterus, ovaries, cervix, fallopian tubes, rectum and sections of her colon) to uterine cancer. Eve went through some brutal chemo (is there any other sort?) and survived and at the City Center on Sunday afternoon she performed her limited Off-Broadway one-person play “In The Body Of The World” (it closes on March 25th) . “Cancer threw me into the center of my body crises”. . and with a mix of humor and horror, Eve returns the favor.
There are moments of humor and horror here, moments in which Eve is a one person window on life’s interrupted by trauma, including her own, that makes visceral sense. But also, moments that feel like a huge overreach and a misunderstanding of both health and surgery and violence. Eve’s concept was that the body of the earth, the bodies of victims of violence, the body of women and girls in harm’s way, and the body of a poison riddled body are connected… I just can’t buy it. Eve, in some level, considers the tumor living in her body a physical manifestation of sin and misuse on her part: drugs and promiscuity in her early years come to life. Also, a vision of the violence against women come to life inside her. If you smoke and you get lung cancer it is self evident that the illness is due to a lifestyle choice, but uterine cancer is different, it tends to happen during menopause when two female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, kept in balance when a woman is in childbearing years, is imbalanced during menopause. I would guess, though, iddly, Eve can’t get out of the way of her metaphor to explain one of the most likely reasons. It is a little ridiculous to wonder if fighting with your mother causes cancer, and it is possible but highly unlikely that not bearing children lead to it. As I said, the obvious reason for a woman to get uterine cancer at the age of 57 is menopause.
Ensler takes you from the Mayo Clinic to the Congo, and she is brutally honest but there is no way her shellshock horror as a Doctor McDreamy tells he he is aware of her work with women and will do anything he can to make her better. That’s true and everything that happens through her recovery (I still don’t quite understand why there is a woman helping her to fart but there you go) is true but she can’t get away with equating it in any form at all with the woman whose fetus was torn from her body by soldiers, thrown in a pot, and the other woment being objected to rape and even worse violence, were forced to eat the fetus or die. While it is Ensler who is telling us the story, so she certainly isn’t unaware of the odd juxtapositioning, unfortunately even if Ensler had died from cancer there is no connection between the two. It is a slippery slope when you connect morals to illness, you find yourself blaming homosexual activity for AIDs and not unprotected sexual intercourse for the spread of AIDs -a whole other question. Diane Paulus directed Eve and Eve’s performance is both physically exhilarating and emotionally connecting, she acts herself out and she keeps you on her side.
If you can get past her bizarre conflagration of , Ensler is a very good playwright and her one person show while deeply subjective makes you care for her and she deserves your care even as she claims “I feel like Gary Gilmore…” . It is a misguided play, the connections don’t connect because the metaphor is mistaken. Her “City Of Joy” is God’s work and she should be proud, however, that’s not enough to make “In The Body Of The World” work.