Eve Ensler is, certainly and emphatically, an emotional creature. She wears loud clothing — black leather boots, chunky jewelry, scarlet lipstick — gesticulates to emphasize her points, and often traffics in hyperbole. Her thoughts on vaginas: "There is so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them — [they're] like the Bermuda Triangle." On security: "I see this word, hear this word, feel this word everywhere." On listening to other women's stories: "I felt like a war photographer who takes pictures of terrible events, but doesn't intervene on their behalf." On her most famous work, The Vagina Monologues: "I was sucked down the vagina trail, and I really haven't gotten off of it."
Indeed, she hasn't. But now, after sixteen years of teaching audiences to embrace their genitalia, Ensler is exhorting us to reclaim our emotions, too. She's latched on to the notion that everyone has "an inner girl," i.e., the part of us that feels empathy toward others. Ensler believes that part is often maligned for being too intense or passionate, and that human emotion, in its purest form, can often set people on edge. "When I was a girl, I was told that I was too hysterical, that I was too alive, that I was too dramatic," Ensler said. "Rather than being told, 'Wow, look how passionate you are. That's where your strength comes from.'"
Perhaps that's why the New York-raised playwright became fixated on girlhood as an adult. In her latest work, Emotional Creature, Ensler focuses on teenage girls and the litany of issues they face: bullying, date rape, eating disorders, genital mutilation, sex trafficking, religious strictures, beauty myths, toilette regimes. Ensler said that in the process of traveling around the world to promote V-Day, her activist campaign to curb violence against women, she met and befriended tons of teenagers, many of whom shared their stories. She eventually compiled them into a book of fictional (but realistic) monologues. Now she's turned it into a play that's part song-and-dance, part spoken-word, and part serious soliloquy, staged by director Jo Bonney and scored by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. It premieres at Berkeley Rep through July 15.
Although Ensler purports to be more of an apostle than a trend-follower, her new piece resonates with current pop culture in a way that Vagina Monologues doesn't. A new spate of websites, magazines, TV shows (most notably, Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls), and films have decided to take young women seriously, both as a muse and a consumer demographic. Not all of them toe the same revolutionary line as Ensler, but most revel in female pathos. Gone is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl; the new dominant female archetype is more dramatic, snarly, independent, and apt to purge her insecurities. Ensler might call that a victory. Through July 15 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre (2025 Addison St., Berkeley). $26.50-$103. 510-647-2949 or BerkeleyRep.org