Friday, October 22, 2010

Eve Ensler's "The Good Body," at Alley Rep

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 4:32 PM

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Playwright Eve Ensler is about as subtle in her messaging as Glenn Beck is in his. But the difference between Ensler and, say, Andrea Dworkin, is that Ensler makes radical feminism fun. The ease of her wit and her willingness to bare all of her secrets is refreshing in a field of thought reputed for being humorless and exclusive.

The Good Body, the current production being staged by Alley Repertory Theater is an excellent example of Ensler's finest traits. Similar to Ensler's renownedThe Vagina Monologues, the play is a series of vignettes and soliloquies performed in Alley Rep's version with four actors. The story follows Ensler's struggles with weight loss; it pits her hyper-awareness of how the images of ideal beauty in the media are illusions and that people look to her as a leading feminist voice to speak out on such issues—even though she flat out hates her stomach. It shows how when Ensler sees skinny models on magazine covers, she prays for a parasite to make her own midsection go away.

That contrast is incredibly compelling in a character sense. And watching this quest to lose weight, as well as characters she meets—everyone from a proudly rotund teenager at a fat camp, to a group of Afghan women who eat ice cream in secret to avoid retribution from the Taliban, to her partner who loves her stomach as much as she hates it—is a fun and heartfelt ride, even when the political message of the work is so heavy-handed. Ensler manages to preach without being preachy ... even when broaching issues like laser vaginal tightenings.

Alley Rep's staging of the play is effective, with one actor playing Eve, and three others sharing the roles of the numerous other characters. The staging is semi-informal hybridized reading, toggling between staged scenes and the actors seated, reading from music stands.

Though all the actors gave excellent performances across their multiple roles, the standout performance last night was easily Julia Pachoud Bennett in the role of Eve. She managed to capture all of the bombasticity of Ensler's text, while not simply aping previous performances. And a performance like that is what can make or break a play like The Good Body by making material that doesn't seem to hold universal appeal, approachable. Yes, the audience was primarily women, but Alley Rep's presentation was good enough that the few men scattered about were able to laugh just as hard.

The show runs for two more nights at VAC and ice cream is served at the act break. Tickets are available at the door for $10. Doors at 7 p.m. with the show at 8 p.m.

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