White Woman Saving Brown Women From Brown Men

Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues was that rarest of theatrical events: a great political play.  Her latest play, Emotional Creature, borrows from its structure—it is largely a series of monologues from teenage girls—but has none of its predecessor’s focus or urgency.  It feels like an after school special and is littered with buzzwords that clearly reflect an adult’s conception of teenage life: characters mention Lady Gaga, Facebook pokes, and the MTV Music Awards with a frequency that is both unrealistic and a little embarrassing.  Ms. Ensler, pushing sixty, is trying to be open to new popular culture but still sounds like those parents of her generation who were scandalized by The Beatles.

Furthermore, Emotional Creature takes on far too much in its scant eighty-five minutes.  Topics discussed include eating disorders, homophobia, STDs, pregnancy, rape, child prostitution, child labor, and female genital mutilation.  Her characters range from an alienated suburban lesbian (an excellent Emily S. Grosland) to a Congolese girl (Joaquina Kalukango) asking God why He wants to remove her clitoris.   Admittedly, there are some nice moments.  A girl from Tehran (Sade Namei) tells a wonderfully touching story about how her nose job transformed her from being “funny” to “pretty,” and a underage, Chinese factory worker (Olivia Oguma) who assembles Barbie heads meditates on the emotions and thoughts of that famous plastic doll.

But too often, Ms. Ensler recklessly tramps through problematic territory, both speaking for the subaltern and failing to provide any contextualization—the monologue from the Congolese girl sounds like a third-rate regurgitation of Alice Walker, and if it were not for her accent, she might as well be an American; it is not so much that Ms. Ensler doesn’t believe in cultural relativism, but that she doesn’t seem to even know it exists.  Emotional Creature is packed with girl power mantras like “From Makeover to Takeover” and “My Short Skirt Is Not an Invitation,” none of which seems relevant to girls outside of middle- and upper-class homes.  The scene that follows the monologue about genital mutilation is—I kid you not—a song and dance about “shaking off” all the bullshit that pollutes female life.  Somehow I doubt that that is empowering to the sixteen-year-old enslaved prostitute from Bulgaria, who spoke only minutes before about the rape she endures every day and the herpes that coats her lips.

It is almost unbelievable that the author of so insightful a work as The Vagina Monologues could have produced something as naïve and ignorant as Emotional Creature.  Towards the end of the play, the cast calls for a “Pussy Riot,” which here is little more than Powerpuff Girls feminism.

Emotional Creature runs through January 13th at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre.  480 W. 42nd Street  New York, NY.

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Aaron Botwick

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