Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Finn Ross

In The Body of The World – Yours and Mine


“… I have been exiled from my body. I was ejected at a young age and I got lost. For years I have been trying to find my way back to my body, and to the earth.” Sounds poetic, doesn’t it, rather like the neopagan goddess movement? In fact, author/actress/activist Eve Ensler’s journey lead her past family and marital abuse, through indulgence of alcohol, drugs, and sexual promiscuity to a liquor, drug and smoke free, physically active, vegetarian existence, albeit maintaining “lots of sex.” Ensler hastens to show she’s struggling, fallible, one of us.

Ensler is an evangelist. She believes women (read humanity) capable of the kind of enlightened activism that respectfully nurtures both our bodies and earth – where they reside; one that supports, defends, connects and celebrates. If we neither turn away nor harm, are courageous and willing she posits, there’s hope. One can only admire the example she sets.

In 2010, on the verge of opening City of Joy, an African healing sanctuary for women who experienced unspeakable violence, Ensler discovered she had uterine cancer. The disease  “… threw me into the center of my body’s crisis. The Congo threw me into the crisis of the world, and these two experiences merged as I faced what I felt sure was the beginning of the end.” (Ensler wonders whether she brought it on herself and if her trial is meant to teach.) It’s this two headed experience she shares. While her other plays featured the voices of many women, this one is markedly personal; highly specific and starkly raw. She stands before us naked from breast to soul.

The show includes grim details, but is pointedly not a deluge of suffering. Extremely deft, Ensler weaves humor (gallows and otherwise) through her story like a couturier. Her stay at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, aka “Tumor Town,” is often wryly described. Seen in the recovery room, she peeks beneath a blanket as if observing what remains after the surgeons’ excavation. Having to rate pain verges on one of David Letterman’s lists. “How’d I get it?!” Ensler muses, “…was it tofu… marriage failure…bad reviews…not being breastfed… Tab-oh my God, I drank so much Tab…”

Between treatments, telephone conversations with a Congolese woman named Angelique about difficulties with the African project (the grisly history and determination of those women is startling), and her own mother’s bout with cancer, helped keep Ensler from imploding. The first are frustrating, angering, energizing; the second debilitating, moving, and finally healing.

We hear about her alienated past, lengthy communion with a tree when she lacked strength for anything else, selfless volunteers, deep friendships, a birthday party in the hospital that sounds like Woodstock before the mud, and “things not to think about on day four of chemo: garbage-where does it go…the disappearance of bees…and if you’re in chemo now, Kellyann Conway…” When was the last time you stood and danced in front of your seat at theater?!

Ensler could easily have died. Instead, the artist persevered, enduring physical and emotional challenges few of us will ever face. (She’s fine.) That she kneaded pain, enfeeblement, and fear into recommitment to galvanizing humanitarianism is a case of making maggot occupied lemons into lemonade. I don’t mean to sound frivolous. This is a woman who found her deeper self in a foxhole, emerging grateful for the sun above and warm earth round her corporal form. Refusing pedestals, Eve Ensler inspires awareness and encourages participation. Off stage, she gives great hugs.

In The Body of The World is both powerful and entertaining; beautifully written in fluid vignettes and marvelously acted. One forgets Eve Ensler is also a highly skilled performer.

Director Diane Paulus, known for coordinating a stage full of thespians, here illuminates the heart and intention of her sole actress as masterfully as she manages stagecraft. Gestures can shock or amuse. Manipulation is invisible. Pacing is perfect.
Jill Johnson is credited with additional movement, so well integrated, it’s organic.

Transitions are ably effected through splendid, symbiotic Lighting Design by Jen Schriever, infectious Sound Design by M.L. Dogg and Dam Lerner, and Finn Ross’s superbly artful and illustrative projections. Scenic and Costume Design by Myung Hee Cho are aesthetically appealing, original, and, at the finale exuberantly fitting.

If you’ve been living under a rock, Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” erupted Off Broadway in 1996, then spread worldwide establishing a new standard for frank discussion of women’s sexuality. It helped birth the anti-violence organization V-Day and then a sanctuary for rape victims in the Congo called City of Joy. Her memoir In the Body of the World was released on April 30, 2013.

Photos by Joan Marcus

Manhattan Theatre Club presents
In The Body of The World  Written and Performed by Eve Ensler
Directed by Diane Paulus
City Center Stage 1  
131 West 55th Street

Listen to Alix Cohen talk about reviewing theater on WAT-CAST.

American Psycho-The Musical: Disco Grand Guignol


It’s the excessive 1980s. Drugs are rampant, sex is like shaking hands. A part of the population can arguably be called dissipate. Patrick Batemen (Benjamin Walker) is a compulsive, materialistic narcissist, honing himself and judging others against high, pricey standards. Product names and designer labels are so specific, one wonders whether companies are paying for “placement.” These define the Wall Street trader and his world and are, today, recognized by the audience with self-satisfaction.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Benjamin Walker and the Company

Patrick is also a serial killer, gleefully employing increasingly grisly methods. Though none of the provided production photos show blood, you may never see more spurt, splash, and cover costumes on a Broadway stage. (An expert Russian dry cleaner is accustomed to washing away this customer’s sins.) In fact, this well chiseled specimen spends much of the second act smeared with it, wearing only his white briefs. (Smearing induces gasps.) Executions are stylized, not the kind of genuinely repulsive images presented by Quentin Tarantino. It’s the amorality that makes one wince.

Surrounding the protagonist are his office mates, including misogynistic best friend,Timothy Price, who has one of those nasal, central casting, snob voices (Theo Stockman, epitomizing the timeless preppie), Luis Caruthers – gay, passing, and something of a geek (an effectively cloying Jordan Dean), and inadvertent adversary Paul Owen, whose supercilious one-upmanship borders on poetic justice (a dark, nimble Drew Moerlin.) Men are hard-bodied, competitive, well heeled, horny, and usually high.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Benjamin Walker, Alex Michael Stoll, Dave Thomas Brown, Theo Stockman and Jordan Dean

Women importantly in Patrick’s orbit are ersatz girlfriend/arm candy, Evelyn Williams (Helen Yorke – persuasively shallow and deadpan funny), piece-on-the-side, Courtney Lawrence (Morgan Weed with shades of Tinsey and Kate), and besotted, nice girl secretary, Jean, who thinks “shy men are romantic” (a credibly snow blind Jennifer Damiano.) Every woman but Jean is a Barbie doll, a Pildes-toned, big-haired, mercenary fashionista.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Anna Eilinsfeld, Ericka Hunter, Heléne Yorke, Morgan Weed, Krystina Alabado, and Holly James

As Patrick’s life feels increasingly empty, rage erupts, bodies mount. Like many sociopaths, he finds himself wanting to be caught in order to be stopped. (This is not a case of desiring fame.) Cue Detective Donald Kimball (Keith Randolph Smith, who also pungently plays a homeless man.)

American Psycho might be considered documentary, satire, an example of social bloodlust- currently including vampires, zombies, and a gun culture we haven’t experienced since cowboys ran the west, or a portrait of dehumanization. Sound like fun?

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Morgan Weed, Alex Michael Stoll, Benjamin Walker, Dave Thomas Brown, Jordan Dean and Heléne Yorke

What it has going for it is a TERRIFIC design team: Scenic Design-Es Devlin; Costume Design-Katrina Lindsay (remember those shoulders?!); Hair, Wigs and Make-Up-Campbell Young Associates; Lighting Design-Justin Townsend; Immensely creative Sound Design- Dan Moses Schreier; and palpably unnerving Video Design-Finn Ross who manage to recreate the over-stimulated, nihilistic, self-absorbed times. Sound and visuals are inspired.

WILDLY CREATIVE STAGING by Director Rupert Goold features such as a clear plastic, floor to ceiling splatter curtain between the audience and acts of mayhem, Patrick’s running up the aisle shooting (faux) hundred dollar bills from an air gun, a row of tanning Hampton denizens on vertical chaises, a midday threesome that includes an enormous, pink, stuffed animal…Derision and energy are kept UP. The wisdom to play horror and wit straight serves the piece. Scenes succeed one another with fluency and precision.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Jennifer Damiano

Lynne Page’s Choreography lands somewhere between robotic voguing and hip hop reflecting the 80s to a T.

Music, which incorporates some actual tunes from Tears for Fears, Phil Collins, and Huey Lewis and the News, is otherwise unmemorable, as are most of the lyrics. (Duncan Sheik) Throbbing, electronic pop carries us through on rhythm. Orchestrations are good.

The show’s Book, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, is dark, quick, and filled with delicious detail. His portrait of Patrick, however, aided and abetted by acting and direction, is one of a sweet, needy, confused man who just happens to enjoy slashing and sawing. Though we watch successive murders, sparks of deep psychosis don’t otherwise appear even when the protagonist intermittently confesses (only to be ignored.) The character is simply not frightening. Those hoping for something like Friday the Thirteenth will be disappointed. (Patrick has rented this film 39 times.) Nor, alas, is he hot. It’s no surprise that Jean wants to take care of this version.

The attractive Benjamin Walker, who made such an impression in, ironically, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, sings and moves charismatically, but seems restrained by the dictates of this portrayal.

Note: I neither read Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 book, nor got through much of the subsequent film. Aside from reputation, the piece was new to me.

Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Benjamin Walker

American Psycho-The Musical
Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis
Directed by Rupert Goold
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street