Chavisa Woods' Books

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A Review of the Good Body

 (2004) by Chavisa Woods

 

 

“ Sweet vanilla illegal melting into me.

I eat ice cream for the women in Kabul

and Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif.”  - Eve Ensler

 

And in the Good Body, eating ice cream may have been the only thing Eve Ensler did for the women in Kabul, Kandahar, and Mazar-e Sharif. I’m not sure to what extent her action uplifted them, but I’m sure it made Eve feel better about herself.

 The author of The world renowned Vagina Monalagues has put together a new  90 minute one woman show touching on issues such as female body image, plastic surgery, sexual dysfunction, abuse, and "third world" hunger- but mostly focusing on her own relationship and obsession with her stomach. The Good Body opened on Nov. 15th and runs through Jan 16th at the Booth Theater in Manhattan. Directed by Peter Askin, the same man who brought you Hedwig and the Angry Inch, this play shies away from getting intimate or edgy and really lets down anyone who may have come in expecting something unique and touching from this usually incendiary and incisive pair. Of coarse this is the first time they’ve worked together. Maybe you can put out fire with fire.

The stage is imaginatively and practically set up like a photography studio, complete with cameras, a costume rack so that Eve can make character changes onstage, a large table topped with several bottles of water in case Eve gets thirsty, and a white backdrop. Throughout the play, various scenes such as women being operated on, and footage of different countries and cities is projected on the backdrop in coordination with the dialogue.

Unlike The Vagina Monologues, in The Good Body Eve makes full use of the stage, abandoning  the safety of  her single black chair to jump, crawl on all fours, and perform manic stomach crunches on a giant blue ball. She finally leaves us in a squatting position shoveling ice cream into her mouth with her bare hands. I wish Eve Ensler had approached her subject matter with as uninhibited a spirit as she approached the blocking.

 Every character is introduced with an overwhelming sense of middle class malaise. Between Helen Gurley Brown, the pioneer and editor of “ Cosmo” Magazine, who blames her obsession with ‘perfect body image on her mother (an easy out),  A talkative Jewish woman who undergoes vagina reduction surgery to please her aging Husband, and  the beligerant black girl at fat camp, we get a very surface picture of, what exactly is the issue? About twenty minutes into the show you get the feeling Eve is boring herself. As the play trudges on, every character is performed with less believability. Eve takes us on a tour of Europe in her attempt to mimic an (I think it was) Italian accent. The worst though, is Eve herself. She speaks with her characters and to the audience, performing her ‘sides’ with all the intensity of a history museum tour guide, leaving every sentence on an winy up-tone. In the middle of boasting an activist mentality toward various global crisis, Eve breaks down and shamelessly plugs Star Bucks and her weakness for a certain pastry. (I winced.)

We live in an time when unlimited information is only a mouse click away, plastic surgery is no longer a taboo- something to be looked down on and kept secret , but rather a casual  conversation topic, a bragging rite and the subject matter for a prime time  reality TV show. Airbrushed, surgically enhanced physically impossible images of super models are plastered across American consciousness  selling one  useless product after another , selling the female body as a product, selling beauty-perfection- happiness. Self mutilation among  teenage female Americans is reaching almost epidemic proportions. Most Rape cases never make it to trial. In Africa, many men believe that by raping a virgin they can cure themselves of aids. All across the world women are being jailed, beaten, stoned for not keeping themselves covered and/or for keeping themselves covered. Entire societies are starving to death as we give up carbs and rush to cosmetic stores spending millions on making ourselves better people.  You would think, given the climate, Eve could have found endless subject matter on the theme;   female body image- The Good Body.

Unfortunately, most of the dialogue revolves around Eves’ own self-centered  loathing of her imperfect stomach. She uses banal stories of other American women- middle and upper class- to relate her own feelings of inadequacy.  When she travels to India, she stupidly spends all of her time in the gym, dieting herself sick and generally annoying the locals. “ Your body is the only country you know.” One Indian woman tells Eve, as Eve rolls on the bed moaning about how good she will never be. The only thing we learn about female body image in India is that the older women are happy with their fat or Jhadi, and many young women now diet and exercise because of a skinny girl  being named “ Miss India World.”

Erica Jong once made a case that Freud could only see women from a male perspective. He imagined a man without a penis and thought how much that man must miss his penis; IE, every woman must suffer from penis envy. “He took their obsession and made it ours.” Did it not dawn on Eve that other countries may have pressing issues related to the female body besides fat and skinny? Not until she visits Africa does the idea even seem to dawn (albeit somewhat abstractly) on our narrator. An old African woman explains to Eve that Americans see their bodies as pictures. Some people don’t have that privilege. Some people have to depend on their bodies to survive, travel and gather food. “ We are starving.” She says. “ You have all the food and you won’t eat it.” The old woman continued to explain to Eve during a more uplifting moment that bodies were like trees. “ You don’t hate that tree because it doesn’t look like the other one do you?” She asks, making the case that all bodies are different and equally beautiful. It is the health of the body that matters. Eve takes this as her own personal creed, granting it all the significance of a spaced out West Coast mantra. “ I’m a tree. I’m a tree,” she proclaims,  floating about the stage waiving her arms in the air. When her boyfriend flirtatiously announces that she is a sturdy tree she responds with” Are you saying I’m fat?”

Of coarse Eve is trying to showcase her ridiculous mindset. But as grounds for what? Is she saying women are being ridiculous, we should just get over it? How do we overcome a thing that is so present and growing daily in society? Who is perpetuating this idea of physical perfection, and why? What does it have to do with consumer economics? What impact does it have on women and their relationships with each other? What role do men play in female body image? These are just some of the questions The Good Body fails to answer or even raise.

It seems that Eve has fallen into self obsession as political commentary. While some spoken word artists may be able to get away with  this, The Good Body lacks passion and awareness,  and  is too ambiguous to make any serious mark on the political arts scene. Maybe if Eve had begun the play where she decided to end it, in Afganistan, with the realization that consumption is a privilege, Eating ice cream "FOR (?) the women in Kabul and Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif," she could have explored the true nature of capitalist pathos and female body image. Or maybe that is not what she wanted. Maybe she was shooting for a tedious therapy session with some time lent to discordant monologues from disimpassioned women about their bodies’ history.

I was happy to know that I was not alone in my disappointment, despite the what seem somewhat obligatory standing ovation given by less than half of the aging, predominantly white audience. As I exited the Booth Theater, my friend turned to me and proclaimed under her breath, “ I feel like I just had coffee with Eve Ensler, and she wouldn’t shut up about her stomach.

 

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