×

Off Broadway Review: Eve Ensler’s ‘In The Body of the World’

Ensler's monologue about her battle with cancer unfolds and deepens in surprising, satisfying ways.

With:
Eve Ensler.

“Do you have any idea who I am?” Eve Ensler tells a doctor from the Mayo Clinic after he suggests radiation therapy on her vagina as a preventative against the return of uterine cancer.

The audience certainly does, and shares the irony with the writer of “The Vagina Monologues” and founder of the international women’s activist movement, V-Day. In Ensler’s new solo show “In the Body of the World,” she goes beyond simply recounting her experience with cancer — and an intimate, shocking and touching tale it is — to create a bold, political work that is as personal and global as her signature work.

But it’s more than “The Cancer Monologues,” set in a loft apartment. In a production that unfolds and deepens in surprising ways — and is strategically staged by Diane Paulus — Ensler connects the cancerous attack on her body with those women suffering from afar. Specifically, she draws a line to the safe haven for victims of rape and abuse named City of Joy, which she helped establish in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But Ensler widens her lens even further in relating her own self-neglect, suppression and denials (which together led to Stage III/IV cancer), linking them to the same reactions that have led to the ravaging of the earth with floods, droughts and oil spills (the latter of which she grimly relates to her post-operative infection).

It’s not as great a leap as you would imagine, and Ensler presents it in a thoughtfully laid-out narrative quilt, made up of engaging frankness, measured sentiment, smartly-timed revelations and disarming humor.

Her wry observations — bring on the drugs, the pot, the fart specialist! — and her confident, casual air certainly help when presenting, in short, episodic segments, the most intimate details of her treatment, and its accompanying roller coaster of emotions. It’s her knack of mixing the serious with the flip that keeps the air charged with sudden surprises and unexpected richness. In telling of her darkest times, she throws a light switch on with grace. In the lighter moments, there’s often a shadow cast, too.

Ensler zeroes in on the details: A metaphoric tree outside her hospital window connects her with her African friends; a liberating perspective on chemo treatment leads to a dramatic purge; and a simple gesture of humanity from a doctor makes all the difference in the world.

We also see a connection with her life story as she tells of the abuse by her father and the heartless indifference of her mother, as well as her bad choices in drugs, alcohol and men. But in her family details, there’s also a new sisterhood, the deepening of the love of a son, and a kind of peace with a demented mother.

It’s a journey that leads not just to a healthy end — this hip earth mother recovers — but an uplifting one. For the finale, there’s a coup de theatre — heightened by Myung Her Cho’s set, Jen Schriever’s lighting, M. L. Dogg and Sam Lerner’s sound and Finn Ross’ projections — that envisions a vibrant, verdant and welcoming life ahead, not only for Ensler but perhaps for the planet too.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: Eve Ensler's 'In The Body of the World'

Manhattan Theater Club at New York City Center’s Stage I; 299 seats, $90 top; Opened Feb. 6, 2018; reviewed, Feb. 3. Running time: 1 HOUR 25 MINS

Production: A Manhattan Theatre Club presentation of an American Repertory Theater production of a play in one act written and performed by Eve Ensler.

Creative: Directed by Diane Paulus; sets and costumes, Myung Hee Cho; lighting, Jen Schriever; sound, M.L. Dogg and Sam Lerner; movement, Jill Johnson; projections, Finn Ross; production stage manager, Florie Seery.

Cast: Eve Ensler.

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content