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Body in Motion

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Eve Ensler travels constantly, and internationally. That vocation has led the 53-year-old New York-based playwright to works exploring women's lives around the globe, including The Vagina Monologues and The Good Body. Vagina Monologues was first performed in a Manhattan café basement, in 1996; thanks to Ensler's social activism, it's now an international phenomenon including her V-Day foundation, which in eight years has raised $35 million to prevent violence against women and girls worldwide. Ensler's first book, new this week, is Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security Obsessed World (Villard Books), which proposes service to others as the antidote to society's all-encompassing need for security. On Oct. 5, at City Theatre, previews begin for the Pittsburgh premiere of The Good Body, Ensler's moving and incisive suite of monologues about body-image issues that she says keep women from assuming their due place in society. Ensler spoke with CP by phone from an airport in San Francisco.

Though focussed on body image,The Good Body concerns being "good" in a larger sense.

We as women particularly were brought up believing that if we could only get "good," then everything would work out. And by good I mean being skinny, or quiet, or subdued, or mute, or behaved. I think it really translates into the body -- that if somehow we can get our bodies to not even eat, really, [that] would be the long-term goal.

You write about "The profound, pervasive self-hatred that is America."

Unfortunately we grow up in a culture where we're taught from the time we're born that something is essentially wrong with us. We're not skinny enough, we're not smart enough, we're not famous enough, we're not white enough, we're not tight enough, you name it. A lot of that is based on the fact that if something's wrong with us, we have to buy something in order to fix it. It kind of instigates the consumer engine and keeps it alive, doesn't it? And together with this trajectory of not being good, in a religious sense, or not being good in a patriarchal sense, it's a really very deadly combination.

So bad behavior creates a sense of liberation?

It's a sense of truth! If you're going to be yourself, and truly yourself -- right? -- it's really about being messy, it's about taking risks, about being wrong sometimes, it's about making mistakes, it's about being outrageous, it's about being mad, it's about being passionate, it's about being loving. It's about all those things that are not necessarily good in the traditional sense, but maybe much more ultimately morally good, you know?

The Good Body depicts women in Afghanistan, Africa, India, who are more at home in their bodies.

To some degree it's a real luxury to hate your body. It's a privilege to hate your body. In many cultures people's bodies are still serving them in the work force, still part of labor, still part of why they're suriving. So why on earth would they hate their bodies?

Yet even there ...

In the cities in just about every country I've been to, or wherever women have been impacted by Western media, those issues have begun quickly solidifying themselves. If it's that powerful for us, why wouldn't it be that powerful for everyone?

How does Good Body relate to Insecure at Last ?

My experience about life is that there is no security, first of all. You can get a house, and you can maybe get some money, but that doesn't make you secure. You know you can die, you know people can leave you. There is no security. And I think this notion that we're going to be good is somehow connected to the idea that if we get good enough, somehow we're going to be safe. Which I think is why a lot of women turn over their independence and their vision and their creativity and their originality for this idea, this illusory idea of safety. And it's not coming!

I think we've done it as a county. We've been convinced by madmen that they're gonna make us secure. So we've given up our voice, we've given up our rights, we've given up our beliefs, we've given up our morality -- but unfortunately, we're far more insecure.

What is the alternative?

Here's the deal: We are insecure. By resisting it and pretending that something that's true isn't true, it seems to me that's all you spend your life doing. If you kind of open yourself to the fact that you are insecure, and that you have to live with all the feelings insecurity engenders, in my opinion, the antidote to that is service.

The Good Body Thu., Oct. 5-29. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. $15-45. 412-431-CITY or www.citytheatrecompany.org

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