Pizza, Vaginas, and Union Square

Wohoo – that got your attention, didn’t it.
Relax, don’t sic the FCC on me yet – this is ART people, it’s Theater (said: theeata). She’s baaack.

Eve Ensler, of Vagina Monologues and V-Day fame has a new show called The Good Body, showing at A.C.T. over on Geary, just off Union Square.

The ticket was a last minute invite from a friend, so I hot footed it from work (to sit in the worst traffic yet headed south across the Golden Gate) and grabbed an excellent slice of pizza at Blondie’s on Powell (regular readers will be glad to know that I had no problem getting both a single slice and a table, thank you very much). The summer fog rolled across Union Square as ill-prepared tourist ran for the warmth of their hotel rooms in the damp, breezy dusk. I’d almost forgotten how great the Union Square energy feels – and since I’m downtown so infrequently these days, the buzz of commerce was invigorating. I know it’s probably the most commercial of SF’s neighborhood (but c’mon, the Haight is just as bad, you know it is), but it’s also one of SF’s most cosmopolitan areas – one of the few neighborhoods that doesn’t need to mask itself in pretentious non-pretentiousness. It’s shopping and tourism and crowded and brightly lit and steps from Chinatown, the Financial District and I love it.
On to the show.

Here’s where it gets thorny.

I am so very grateful for the ticket, and so very glad for the chance to see the show – I think Eve Ensler broke new, important ground with the Vagina Monologues – they were fantastic, thrilling, with each proudly uttered, sadly sung, quietly whispered, or vibrantly shouted “Vagina,” women everywhere felt a little “hell yeah” rise within.

So when the woman next to me, whom I did not know at all, kept saying “oh my god” in glee or shock and said “didn’t you just love it” after the show, it killed me to have to cross my fingers as I said “sure.” It’s not that Ensler lacks passion – she has it and then some. She commands the stage well (I’ve certainly seen less life on stages packed with players). But the premise here, well, it felt a little old.

The Good Body is about being good, being good to your body, being good about your body, owning your fat tummy, your Latin ass, your large breasts, your unruly thighs, etc. And why do fashion magazines tell us who to be. And why do our mothers tell us we’re ugly. And why must we feel guilt for what we can’t control. And why why why, isn’t it funny, isn’t it sad, aren’t we all molested, and victimized and strong and women. Roar.

Except the themes, in spite of Ensler’s stage presence, come out like high-brow Oprah. (that knock you hear is the sound of NOW arriving to take back my membership card.) I identified with some elements of the show – primarily her reference to Starbucks maple oat nut scones (yes, they’re fabulous, I know it’s an evil corporation, but they have some tasty scones) and to frustration at being told to “lighten up when I’m already fucking funny.” But other possible connection points felt like throwbacks to late 90s pathos. Perhaps it’s just proof of my generation’s failing its feminist forebears. It just wasn’t as fresh as with the Monologues.

In an interview in the program, Ensler says “Fat is relative. Size is relative. Who decides?” In the show she riffs on Cosmo magaznie (evil! vile!) and almost every mother character she portrays betrays her daughter’s physical being and in doing so destroys her mental and spiritual self. Maybe I’m just too lucky, having had both a fantastic mother and father, to get it. But it gets to a point where you want to shout, enough! it’s okay! Your belly is fine. Move on, move on. Which is Ensler’s point at the end as well – but you can imagine how difficult is was to live with her along the way . . . .

In short – Ensler’s performance is characteristically strong, funny, and occasionally strikes a familiar chord with nearly everyone watching. But the ice cream she so passionately eats at the end is really tofrutti (no really, I met her after the show, she said so), and I couldn’t help but feel some of the themes felt non-dairy afterward as well.

But as LeVar Burton would say, you don’t have to take my word for it. Go support theater and see it yourself. Tickets are available online and the show runs through August 1st.

2 Comments so far

  1. (unregistered) on July 24th, 2004 @ 7:30 am

    I saw it.
    …spoiler follows. if you read further, you will read about bits of the show…
    Her performance occupied a middle ground between theater, lecture, powerpoint presentation, and vaudeville comedy. But it wasn’t good enough to be any of those; it was supposed to be a therapeutic confessional self-expression, which doesn’t have to be theatrical.
    I guess it was intended to be to be self-absorbed navel-gazing; that was the point.
    Showing off so many accents: Latina, African American, Indian, Yiddish, I can be anyone! Doesn’t matter what I say or what I look like on the stage, listen to my great impressions!
    Stink from the smoke of Eve’s gratuitous cigarette smoking break mid-show crept to the rear of the theater within a minute of its lighting. Yick. It’s art, it’s not a “real” cigarette if it’s on the stage. That’s not “real” smoke I smelled.
    Performing in front of an oddly odd-numbered array of chairs, like that of a jury, overlooking the stage, upon one of which a mannequin was randomly stuck. And she sat in one or two chairs in the first row rather randomly. It was an afterthought — hey, let’s make-believe that there is a jury watching the lecture!
    The best part of the show was the unintended afterimages that remained in the retina after the images projected on the well-hung projection screen flashed white and went quickly dark.
    Calling Mark Rothko and Josef Albers.
    That blob-like ball bouncing off the stage like the blob in The Prisoner — best comic relief.
    I noticed that sitting in the center back; no one nearby was laughing or responding; the only response came from the sides and front.
    The video presentation of her disembodied face speaking from a body lying on the floor was a super effect.
    But a fun effect does not a theatrical experience make.
    Can words change how people sense their own bodies, and the bodies of others? Seeing is believing. Beauty is in the eye, not the ear, of the beholder.
    The video shots of the women-on-the-street were more captivating than anything that happened on the stage.
    I remembered having seen the musical Hair on the same stage in 1969. I remembered the shocking nude scene. I remembered the lyrics:
    My body, (My body), My body Eb, Ab, Db F
    My body, (My body), My body Eb, Ab, Db F
    My body is Walking In Space Fm Db Ab-A-Bb
    My soul is in orbit with God face to face Fm Db Ab-A-Bb
    Floating, flipping; Flying, tripping Ab Bb Db Eb
    Tripping from Potsville to Starlight Fm Db Ab-A-Bb
    Tripping from Starlight to Moonville Fm Db Ab Bb
    On a rocket to the Fourth Dimension Ab Bb Db Eb
    Total self-awareness, the intention Ab Bb Db Eb
    My mind is as clear as country air Fm Db Ab Bb7
    I feel my flesh, all colors mesh Fm Db Ab Bb7
    Red, black; Blue, brown Eb; Bb7
    Yellow, crimson; Green, orange Db; Eb
    Purple, pink; Violet, white Bb7; F7
    White, white; white, white Ab; Eb
    White, white… Eb
    All the clouds are cumuloft, Walking In Space Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb
    Oh my God, your skin is soft, I love your face Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb
    How dare they try to end this beauty? Ebm Gb Cb Gb
    How dare they try to end this beauty? Ebm Gb Cb Gb
    To keep us under foot, they bury us in soot Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb
    Pretending it’s a chore, to ship us off to war Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb
    In this dive we rediscover sensation Ebm Gb Cb Gb
    In this dive we rediscover sensation Ebm Gb Cb Gb
    Walking In Space, we find the purpose of peace Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb
    The beauty of life, you can no longer hide Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb
    Our eyes are open, our eyes are open Ebm Gb Cb Gb
    Our eyes are open, our eyes are open Ebm Gb Cb Gb
    Wide! Wide! Wide! Gb Cb Gb
    In one short song they sang to Eve — 1969, meet 2004. Time travel brought the cast of Hair to Eve’s performance a few nights ago. And Eve was transported to the stage of Hair — a time traveler from thirty five years in the future. And the future is bleak.
    The writers and cast of Hair felt something powerful about bodies, expressed it boldly and beautifully, and made the audience feel it bodily.
    And Eve lectured, and the audience listened. There wasn’t much to watch.
    I remembered Yoko Ono’s presentation of the violation of having her clothes cut off, bit by bit, by audience members invited do do so, until Yoko was naked.
    I remembered John and Yoko’s courage in presenting themselves in their birthday suits on their Two Virgins album.
    And at the end of this show, we see something more, and something less.
    It was a visual polemic, borrowing “a little this, a little that” to drive a point home again and again and again.
    I felt as if there was going to be a test afterwards.

  2. (unregistered) on July 29th, 2004 @ 2:59 am

    Thank you, CD.
    I was wondering if her next artistic inquiry telethon would be the mouth.
    It’s a rich topic; talking about talking. Very “meta”. Orality. Smoking. Eating. Talking. Lecturing. Sucking.
    Or perhaps the heart. That would be nice, too.

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