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A CurtainUp Review

The Good Body

Our body is our country.
The only city,
The only village,
The only every,
we will ever know.

--- Eve Ensler
Eve Ensler
Eve Ensler (Photo: Joan Marcus )
Eve Ensler's The Good Body will no doubt attract many of the same women who made her The Vagina Monologues so wildly successful. Judging from the man sitting next to me who laughed appreciatively throughout the intermissionless eighty minutes, Ensler's latest will not be limited to one sex audiences though it's main appeal is to women If this turns out to be another hit, it's the " girls' night out" group sales that will make it so.

Ms. Ensler is a lively performer with a good sense of humor and in The Good Body her main intention seems to be to make us laugh -- with her, at her and at ourselves. Though her black pants suit doesn't have a sleeve on which to hang her feminism, Ensler can't be accused of abandoning her commitment to womens' self actualization. However, the Booth, unlike the West Side Arts Theater which was home to Vagina Monologues, is on Broadway. And, since The Good Body doesn't add any particularly fresh insights to a subject much written about (most incisively so by Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women), the playwright-performer has opted to fall into step with the other comics who have been turning Broadway into Comedy Central.

Besides acting as hostess and narrator, Ensler plays eleven other women. By keeping her on the move, director Peter Askin helps her to build on the impression that the stage is more populated than it is. Set designer Robert Brill and video designer Wendell K. Harrigton do commendable work to bring the accouterments of a fully realized play to these proceedings. Susan Hilferty supplies jackets and scarves to dress up the basic black pants suit.

The evening is built on Ensler's own earliest memories of wanting to be good and associating that goodness with looking good. For her this led to a lifelong obsession with a too round belly, and from there it's just a hop, skip and jump towards exploring the universal compulsion to remake some part , if not all, of our bodies. To establish the self-deprecating mood she gives us a glimpse of the offending body part -- a mini-nude moment, if you will. Harrington's projections humorously illustrate her declaration that women she meets everywhere generally hate one particular part of their bodies ("They spend most of their lives fixing it, shrinking it. They have medicine cabinets with products devoted to transforming it. They have closets full of clothes that cover or enhance it").

The journey from belly bashing to a sum-up ode to the body as good even if flawed is punctuated with numerous frantic journeys to nowhere on a treadmill; also stomach crunching push-ups on variously colored Pilates balls. The funniest of these are a push-up session in Italy to the music of La Boheme with the ball in red, white and green and a jog on an Indian gym's treadmill with a Buddah in running shoes in the background.

The quest to banish the stomach that is her "tormentor" vanquishes ice cream and , denounces bread as Satan. It shows Eve haunted by the ever present image of the " blonde pointy-breasted raisin-a-day stomached" Cosmo and other magazine cover girls who embody "The American Dream" and her "personal nightmare." Her portraits include the perpetrator of that particular dream, Helen Gurley Brown. At 80, Brown is still driven to match the ideal she created. A parallel portrait transforms Ensler into super model Isabella Rossellini (if you don't look to closely, there is a resemblance) who lost her Lancõme spokesperson job when at age forty she refused to keep her mouth shut and just look beautiful.

There are also less famous women in Ensler's portrait gallery. An African American teenager calls the spa where Eve meets her by its true name, "a fat camp." A Puerto Rican woman from Brooklyn does a zestful dance to demonstrate the Latino appreciation of a "big butt" but has her own obsession with the spread below that follows childbirth. The most bizarre character is a 35-year old model shown on screen in a hospital bed after the latest body changing surgeries performed by her plastic surgeon spouse. When you put this in perspective with the extreme makeover reality show craze, I guess this isn't all that unbelievably far out as it sounds.

Not unexpectedly, the final stop in the road to self esteem is in the Mideast where Eve joins a group of Afghanistan women in risking the Taliban's wrath by eating vanilla ice cream, a double metaphor for freedom. A nice image, yet it comes too late. Unless you're a major Ensler fan, the show's humor is likely to wear thin pretty fast. About half way through I too felt as if I were on a treadmill watching this exploration of a worthy subject speed along entertainingly enough but not really going anywhere. The one-note jokey approach precludes tackling the national health crisis caused by obesity or dealing with bodily changes imposed by illness. Ms. Ensler has a good mind as well as a reasonably good body but she's not giving it as fully rounded a workout as it deserves.

Written and performed by Eve Ensler
Directed by Peter Askin
Set Design: Robert Brill
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams Original music: David Van Tieghem
Video Design: Wendall K. Harrington
Running time: Approx. 80 minutes without an intermission
Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St, 212-239-6200
From 10/22/04 to 1/16/04; opening 11/15/04.
Tuesdays at 7, Wednesday thru Saturdays at 8; matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2, Sundays at 3.
Tickets are $80, with twenty-six $25 tickets available per performance through lottery (names are collected 2 1/2 hours prior to each performance.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 11/11/04 press performance
Closing 1/02/05 after 27 previews and 56 regular performances- an early closing that was moved up even more-- with 12/19/04 the final performance.
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