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A CurtainUp Review
Emotional Creature

I am Isadora Duncan, 23, dancing and loving, naturally, freely, the way it comes to me in my body. .— Verse from “Refuser Dance”
Emotional Creature
Joaquina Kalukango, Olivia Oguma, Sade Namei, Ashley Bryant, Emily Grosland, and Molly Carden
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Girls are much like quicksilver. They cannot be held down. That phenomenon may well be pulsing through the performers in Eve Ensler’s new play with music,Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World, making its New York premiere at the Pershing Square Signature Center. It raises Girl Power to a feisty new level.

Based on her best-selling book of the same title, Ensler strings together fictional monologues, stories and songs to represent girls across the world. Under the direction of Obie Award winner Jo Bonney this show has powerful moments, although it doesn’t break any fresh theatrical ground for its activist author.

Ensler, best known for her award-winning play The Vagina Monologues, is a master of blending the personal with the political. However, this new work, which investigates the hot button issues of body image, sexual violence, and teen pregnancy often seems like a regurgitation of the headlines. Still, it would be a mistake to miss the edge and point of this piece.

Ensler traveled the globe to cull stories for this project and often found herself on the ground floor of emotion as she listened to girls sharing their intense tales of joy and woe. She compiled their stories, and then added her own artistic wizardry. But its bold message, time and again, is that girls must find their own voice and not be afraid to speak their mind in a male-dominated world.

The piece opens with Ashley, a young African-American woman holding an iphone. Though she knows she should be studying for her honors chemistry exam, she is taking hundreds of photos for her Facebook profile shot, a few of which are projected on a giant screen on stage. The idea, of course, is to reveal her ongoing struggle with body image and her preoccupation with “looking good.” The knee-jerk responses to her self-portraits range from “Oh God, ugly” to “Wow. I look kinda good.” Ashley is opening her eyes to the fact that being an adolescent is terribly competitive, and that looks matter in her girl world. It’s a beguiling monologue, but slight in comparison to those coming later.

The mood changes from vignette to vignette, as do the geographic settings. You will be taken from a girl’s private space, to Central Park, to the Congo, to Asia. There's a posse of girls playing a game called “Would You Rather” (“Would you rather lose your arm or be fat?”) that juxtaposes pure nonsense with the threat of body mutilation. At another point you are listening to the horrific details of Molly, a rape victim living in Sophia, Bulgaria. “I am sixteen. I am owned by them. They do what they want . . . sometimes they refuse to use condoms. If we refuse them, we are beaten.”

Just when you think that the hard-edged realism is too much, the evening acquires a softer tone, and invokes the ghost of Isadora Duncan. “I am Isadora Duncan, 23, dancing and loving, naturally, freely, the way it comes to me in my body.” Whether it’s sharing secrets, breaking taboos, or reflecting on artists who refused to be silenced, Emotional Creature possesses many personas, many voices.

Unfortunately, Ensler fails to create any convincing three-dimensional characters in this work. She does succeed in exposing patriarchal authority, the silencing of female voices, and cultural mandates that suppress women.

Lest you assume thatEmotional Creature is just for young women, there was a broad cross-section of theatergoers in the audience on the evening I attended. Though females in their teens or twenties may be its ideal audience, it can be a valuable experience for anybody who wants to increase their understanding of the challenges young women confront in our contemporary world. If you can’t snatch your daughter or niece away from the television to accompany you to the show, don’t hesitate to go alone. The spunky closing song tells you that “it’s a girl thing.” But it’s a human thing too.

Emotional Creature's creative people are all in the same key. Luam’s sassy choreography, MyungHee Cho’s curvy minimalist set and contemporary costumes, Lap Chi Chu’s hi-tech lighting that incorporates iphones to glowy effect. Shawn Sagady’s projection design is in turnsplayful and somber.

> Much like The Vagina Monologues, this piece is about female empowerment. But instead of focusing on women at large, it embraces girls (or the girl inside you) of all size, shape, color, race, sexual preference, or economic bracket with a light touch.

Emotional Creature
Written by Eve Ensler
Directed by Jo Bonney
Cast: Ashley Bryant, Molly Carden, Emily S. Grosland, Joaquina Kalukango, Sade Namei, Olivia Oguma.
Sets and Costumes: Myung Hee Cho
Sound: Jake Rodriguez
Lighting: Lap Chi Chu
Music and Music Direction: Charl-Johan Lingenfelder
Projection Design: Shawn Sagady
Choreography: Luam
Stage Manager: Linda Marvel
The Pershing Square Signature Center at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $75. 212/279-4200
>From 10/26/12; opening 11/12/12; closing 12/13/12.
Tuesday through Friday @ 7:30 pm,. Saturday @ 2pm and 8pm, Sunday @7:30pm
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 11/10/12
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