Eve Ensler’s work is returning to Long Island with the first-ever production of The Good Body in the Monroe Lecture Center at Hofstra University.
Ensler is best known for her work The Vagina Monologues, a series of works about, as you guessed, vaginas. Like Monologues, The Good Body is an episodic play, featuring a series of women – some based on actual interviews – and their own struggles with their bodies – inspired by age, family, culture, and Eve’s relationship with her own body as she talks to each woman.
The Good Body was inspired by and begins with Eve’s relationship with her stomach, a part of her body she’s started to hate as it goes from flat to poking through her clothes, prompting a friend to congratulate her on a nonexistent pregnancy. The show begins with Eve’s attempts to rid herself of her stomach – not eating bread, working out compulsively. She slowly begins to meet the other women in the play – Carmen, a Puerto Rican who struggles with “the spread”, the fat under her ass, Helen, the 80 year old founder of Cosmopolitan magazine, which Eve believes to be the root of many women’s self-hatred, Priya, an Indian woman who nurses Eve through a bout with a parasite (something Eve celebrates as it flattens her stomach.)
Ensler started out performing the entire show herself, but many productions – including Hofstra’s – have separate women in each role. Three women play three versions of Eve at Hofstra: Niki Rihal, Danielle Drop, and Dena Brody, dressed all in black to separate themselves from the rest of the women on stage. The girls sometimes stand together as a unit, but have their own sections where they represent Eve.
Chanler Harris is excellent as Bernice, who Eve meets at fat camp. Bernice loves her fat, loves being fat – a highlight of her story is when she describes “chunky dunking”, when a group of fat girls at the camp go skinnydipping, jumping off the boards and making waves – “some of the beach chairs just floated away.” Hofstra’s Vice President of University Relations, Melissa Connolly, takes to the stage as Carol, an older woman who undergoes a laser procedure to tighten her vagina in order to bring easier pleasure to her much older husband.
And while The Good Body touches on a lot of relevant topics through the stories of these women, the directors and producer – Gianna Ensminger and Elly Weinstock, respectively – acknowledge that there are “messages in the show that we don’t agree with,” but that ultimately it’s not enough to deter them from putting on the show.
Many of The Good Body‘s flaws are Ensler’s fault, not Hofstra’s. Nina, played by Maya Deschenes, talks about how growing boobs as a kid threw her into the sphere of being sexually attractive – “people stopped looking at my eyes, distracted by the two huge events hanging on my chest.” (I thought here of the boy who turned around in French class when I was thirteen to tell me I had ‘nice titties.’ Miss you, bro.) Kali McCauley, as Tiffany, enters a relationship with her plastic surgeon as he falls in love with the body he’s created. Ensler recognizes and addresses the relationship between men and the way they treat women’s bodies, but doesn’t deliver a sufficient rebuttal.
A recent tumblr post (stay with me) sums it up pretty well: “All women are forced to live under an arbitrary and unfair system which sorts us into the categories of ‘Fuckable’ and ‘Worthless’. The solution to this is NOT to expand the definition of ‘Fuckable.’”
You can catch a talented group of young women perform The Good Body in the Fortunoff Theatre at Hofstra University on March 5 at 7:00 p.m, and on March 6 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door, and all proceeds are going to local women’s charities.