Olivia Oguma in a scene from Eve Ensler’s “Emotional Creature” at Berkeley Rep
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
By Eve Ensler
Directed by Jo Bonney
Music by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley, Calif.
June 14-July 15, 2012
It takes one to know one and nobody knows women like Eve Ensler. Her latest work, “Emotional Creature,” playing at Berkeley Rep, may even surpass her groundbreaking “Vagina Monologues,” if not in shock value at least as far as entertainment goes.
Featuring an ensemble cast of seven uncommonly talented young women — Ashley Bryant, Molly Carden, Emily S. Grosland, Joaquina Klukango, Sade Namei and Olivia Oguma — each of whom gets her moment in the spotlight, “Creatures” examines the inner and outer reality of girls on the verge of womanhood in an often-cruel, always-confusing world and, in doing so, illuminates our own, no matter what age (or sex actually, although there were precious few men in the audience from what I could see). Backed by Shawn Sagady’s amazing larger-than-life videos and punctuated by songs written and directed by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, the show is a fast-moving 90 minutes that could possibly change a few lives among those who see it.
It begins simply enough, with one girl suffering under the social snobbery of an elite high school clique (and who among us hasn’t?). It’s funny but it’s sad, like most of the tales we will see. Then the girls talk and sing about sex (“I want to be with you in real time, not just on Facebook”) and values (“Give me something to believe in that isn’t just a brand name”). Then we get to the big stuff: anorexia — with a panel of bloggers describing their individual experiences with food — teen pregnancy, gender confusion, suicide.
And then the really big stuff — because Ensler is nothing if not an activist — her annual “V-Day” (V for Vagina) a global campaign aimed at violence toward women. Sex slavery (horrific in the Congo, raising echoes of Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined,” also seen at Berkeley Rep), genital mutilation in Africa and — my personal favorite, told with whimsy and pathos, child labor in China. Oguma tells this one in the first person. She is a child worker in a factory, putting the heads onto Barbie dolls whose other body parts come from other factories (with other child laborers) in other countries of the world. It is a hilarious riff on the cult of Barbie as symbolic of female beauty as well as a heartbreaking tale of children whose youth is stolen for commercial gain.
The only disappointment in this production is the title. Taken from Ensler’s book “I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls around the World,” it makes sense with regard to the secret life; the emotions, not so much. The closing song “I Am an Emotional Creature” feels out of context with the rest of the show, existing only to reinforce the title. This is a small quibble. “Emotional Creature” deals with enormous issues, whatever it is named or misnamed. And it does it delightfully, with a smile and a song.