“‘Emotional Creature’ is about discovering the girl in each of us,” Ensler said. “It is about traveling and dancing and refusing. It is about telling secrets and breaking taboos and building a posse.”
The play tackles some uncomfortable topics, from rape and genital mutilation, to such seemingly more innocent matters as Barbies and peer pressure. Part drama, part musical, the performance incorporates video, original songs, monologues and stories from across the globe.
“The reason I wrote ‘Emotional Creature’ was to honor people like Malala Yousufzai—a fearless young activist who is an inspiration to teen girls the world over,” Ensler explained in October.
Yousufzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani girl, recently made headlines when she was shot by the Taliban in her home country for promoting girls’ education. She survived, and is being treated in London for the attack. Her ordeal has drawn international attention to the struggle for gender rights in Pakistan.
The appealing and energetic cast features six young actresses. Early in the play, two of the characters, one from Bulgaria and another from Congo, talk about their experience being raped and forced into prostitution and sexual slavery.
Marta, played by Joaquina Kalukango, recounts being accosted by a group of Congolese soldiers while she is shopping. They kidnap her, and one of the men abuses her for years afterward. The monologue sheds light on the rampant problem of mass rape in Congo from the perspective of a young girl, who voices her anger, confusion and mixed emotions.
“When I see enormous injustice, when I see people messing with women’s rights, there are certain things I can’t be quiet about,” Ensler told Chicago’s Daily Herald. “I cannot sit there and let those people do that. That just makes me insane.”
Unlike the coverage available in news reports, which Ensler said prompted her to write about Pakistan and Congo, “Emotional Creature” focuses on the emotional and psychological impact such crimes have on their victims by giving them a voice. If anything, the performance makes the case that being emotional is a female strength, not weakness.
“I am an emotional creative,” sing the cast. “Don’t tell me not to cry, to shut it down. This is not extreme, it is a girl thing.”
Perhaps the wittiest sketch is the story of a 15-year-old Chinese girl who works in a Chinese factory where she makes the heads for Barbie dolls. The character, played by Olivia Oguma, tells us how sorry she feels for “poor Barbie” who must be perfect, can never talk, and doesn’t have the freedom to be herself. She jokes how she is “Prison Barbie,” trying to send out secret messages to the world while, stuck in a factory, she manufactures dolls for young girls across the globe.
Many of the scenes set in America deal with the inherent angst girls feel to conform to societal pressure to look thin, be pretty and fit in.
Adapted from the “Vagina Monologues,” in the song “my short skirt,” the girls reclaim their right to dress however they like, sexy or not, stating it is not “an invitation, a provocation, that I want it or give it or that I hook.”
“My short skirt… is a liberation flag in the women’s revolution,” they sing in unison.
The play is currently at Pershing Square Signature Center in New York through January 13. Meanwhile, Ensler is finishing up her memoir, In the Body of the World, which comes out next spring.