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Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

In the Body of the World

Written and performed by Eve Ensler

American Repertory Theater

Eve Ensler, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues is, in addition to being a writer and actress, a social activist who has devoted her life and work to battling sexual violence against the female body worldwide. She has visited sixty countries in her efforts to help and empower women. Her latest piece, a one-woman show In the Body of the World, adapted from Ensler’s eponymous memoir, is being premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The play tells stories of female anguish as experienced by Eve Ensler and contemporary Congolese women. It attempts to intertwine Ensler’s experience of cancer with the atrocities committed against women’s bodies in the Congo’s civil war. However, it focuses far more on the details of Ensler’s life with the Congo serving to bookend the piece. Eve Ensler narrates; she plays no other characters.

Despite its emphasis on suffering, the production is stylish, often beautiful to look at and sometimes very funny. A.R.T.’s artistic director Diane Paulus has staged it with panache. The visual metaphors of Finn Ross’s projections create a second world where pain and horror take on a splendor. As Ensler is undergoing chemotherapy, the audience sees a river of fire on the large screen in front of them. One of the play’s underlying themes is the destruction of the natural world by human greed. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a beautiful country according to Ensler, has been raped for its raw materials. In contrast, a rain forest, with no sign of human life is projected. Myung Hee Cho’s attractive setting of Ensler’s loft with a colorful Indian chest upstage center, topped by a similar cabinet with the goddess Shiva inside, a chaise longue stage left, multihued pillows on the floor stage right, and a large chair which is moved around as needed is easily transformed into various hospital rooms. Jen Schriever’s lighting is very effective.

The ninety minute show is divided into three sections. The first, Somnolence, describes a period in which Ensler, despite her active and varied sex life, was emotionally detached from her body, doubtless because of her father’s molestation, which began at age six and lasted five years. His brutality towards her continued longer. She believes it was this disengagement that caused her to ignore her pronounced cancer symptoms. In section two, Burning, she undergoes treatment for her stage four cancer of the uterus. She describes her medical care – good and bad – her suffering, her humiliation, her needs, and her support system. In the last section, Second Wind, she has returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to her friends there and the City of Joy, a community built with help from Ensler, amongst others, to aid women survivors of the war’s violence.

In the Body of the World is a moving and at times upsetting play. Eve Ensler brings tremendous force and life and humor to it. I was deeply involved throughout as the rest of the audience appeared to be.

In the Body of the World continues at the Loeb Drama Center through May 29, 2016.

Directed by Diane Paulus

Set and Costume Design ………… Myung Hee Cho

Lighting Design ………………….. Jen Schriever

Sound Design ……………………. M.L. Dogg

Projection Design ………………… Finn Ross

Movement ………………………… Jill Johnson