When you go to an Eve Ensler play, you know the V-word is going to come up. With her 1996 breakthrough The Vagina Monologues, the feminist playwright encouraged women to talk frankly about sex, calling body parts by their real names. In her new play, Emotional Creature, it doesn’t take long before the characters start doing just that. The show, based on her book, explores what it’s like to be a girl through a series of monologues, conversations, and songs. ”My mother and father were doing it in the next room,” says a high school girl in one scene. ”I thought my mother was dying.” ”My two moms come at the same time,” brags another. ”My mother says know your vagina,” says a third. It’s all perfectly healthy, shrink-approved conversation. But do real-life teenagers really use sex as an excuse to talk about their parents?
At times, it’s hard to tell who might be the right audience for Emotional Creatures. Progressive mothers will probably feel good taking their daughters to this play, which addresses issues affecting girls around the world. The characters include a Bulgarian sex slave (Molly Carden), a Chinese factory worker who assembles Barbies (Olivia Oguma), a Kenyan girl protesting female circumcision (Joaquina Kalukango), an Iranian student pressured into getting a nose job (Sade Namei), and an American girl (Emily S. Grosland) attracted to another girl. But it too often feels like it’s written for women of Ensler’s generation, not their kids.
Some of the references feel ridiculously dated. (Note to Ensler: it’s been 20 years since Barbie said, ”Math class is tough!”) And the monologue format often seems like a relic of the 1990s, a time before blogs offered far more intimate first-person confessionals than Off Broadway shows. Ensler tries to stay current by anchoring the girls’ stories with Facebook: The unnamed narrator (Ashley Bryant) keeps taking photos of herself, trying to find the right profile picture, and the images light up behind her, creating a cool effect. But there’s no Instagram in this version of 2012, and when a group of girls get together to ”blog” about eating disorders, the discussion is structured more like the conversations in an AOL chat room. Surely, someone here has heard of Twitter?
This doesn’t mean that Ensler’s overall message isn’t important. She may be a playwright, but she’s always been an activist first: The Vagina Monologues inspired V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women, and her aims here feel just as practical. As the title suggests, the monologues are highly emotional: Kalukango, who’s absolutely magnetic on stage, breaks down in tears during a monologue about rape, and during previews, sniffling could be heard throughout the theater. Listening to stories like hers might be a good way to broach difficult topics with teenagers, and that’s an admirable goal in itself. It’s easy to be thankful that plays like these exist — even if they’re a little uncool. B?
(Tickets: Ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200)