American playwright Eve Ensler shares the stories of women of different ages and races from all over the world through monologue, song and spoken word in the award-winning play Emotional Creature.
The play is an adaptation of original monologues from her book published in 2010, I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around The World. And what is delivered is nothing less than an “in your face” script from Ensler of The Vagina Monologues fame, whose South African production of Emotional Creature was nominated for a 2011 Naledi Theatre award for Best Ensemble Production/Cutting Edge Production.
Emotional Creature had its off-Broadway premier in the United States in 2012 but it’s South African rapper Cassper Nyovest’s song Doc Shebeleza in the opening act that helps to localise the production and remind the audience that the production is now in Mzansi.
Sex slavery, eating disorders and rape are some of the issues brought to life on stage by six young actresses, all in their twenties, under the direction of Obie award-winning director Jo Bonney. The cast includes local talent Barileng Malebye, Karabo Tshikube, Lara Lipschitz, Ratanang Mogotsi, Vuyelwa Maluleke and Zakeeya Patel, who all manage to transport the audience to different cities and into the thoughts of individual women from as far as China, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and right back to South Africa.
With just a few days until Women’s Month begins, Emotional Creature captures the everyday struggles of being a woman. The characters are relatable. According to Ensler’s book, 74% of young girls say they are under pressure to please someone. In the play the women discuss the great lengths that women go to in order to: be thin, to please their parents and to fit in with the popular girls at school. Whatever the age, you’ll be sure to find a bit of yourself in one of the monologues.
One monologue tells a story of a girl from the DRC, played by Barileng, who recounts her experience as a sex slave for the soldiers. She shares her rules on how to cope with her disturbing circumstances with other young girls in the DRC. Barileng’s performance takes the audience straight to DRC and captures the emotion that leaves you feeling uneasy.
Female genital mutilation is addressed through another monologue by a young girl in Tanzania. In a conversation with God, she asks “him/her” if it’s fair that people are after her clitoris as part of circumcision, even though she doesn’t want to have her clitoris cut. In some of the ethnic groups in Tanzania, women are refused as brides if they refuse to have their clitoris cut. Maluleke’s portrayal of the girl in Tanzania is seamless.
Although the play deals with some heavy issues, there are moments in the 90-minute play that will make you laugh and tap your feet to music from composer and music director Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. The song and dance in between the monologues helps to lighten the mood. An impressive bit of production is the backdrop screen on stage that also helps to liven up the production and complements the acting on stage. For example, whenever one of the characters takes a selfie on stage, the photo appears on the backdrop screen.
In the last act of the play, as the actors pay tribute to female activists such as Lilian Ngoyi and Angela Davis, you are challenged to contribute to women empowerment. Photos of female activists from all around the world were displayed on the backdrop screen and the actors shared the story of each activist. Hearing about the bravery of these women and how they fought for the rights of others was inspiring. I was left asking myself, “Am I making a difference in my country, in my community?”
Emotional Creature is on at UJ Arts Centre (July 18-30 2014) and at Baxter Flipside (6-16 August 2014).