Eve Ensler makes me cry.
Judging by the tissues being raised to eyes during a matinee, the playwright of “The Vagina Monologues” has that effect on many with her latest play, “Emotional Creature.”
At off-Broadway’s The Pershing Square Signature Center, the gut-wrenching play mines more of Ensler’s specialized talent: spotlighting what women endure simply by being born female.
The six characters are all young women, and they don’t interact with one another, as characters do in traditional dramas. Rather, each actress delivers monologues of how she struggles with different situations.
The actresses come together to serve as the chorus and in the opening and closing numbers, but each actress is strong enough to tell a story that represents millions of others young women.
Some stories are tinged with sweetness, such as a young woman (Ashley Bryant, “Gossip Girl”) taking endless photos of herself for her Facebook profile. Some are tragic — one young woman suffers every indignity imaginable.
In the opening number, they ask one another difficult, timely questions such as: “Would you rather be date-raped by a stranger or dumped?” “Would you save your mother or your father?” “Would you rather catch your boyfriend with your sister or best friend?”
And so we’re off. Ensler does not bother with the superficial. She gets right to the pain and the joy of what makes women, women. Unlike “The Vagina Monologues,” the few lighter lines are far between, making the play draining.
That doesn’t make it less important or diminish its message, but it is difficult to come up for air while watching.
The women discuss anorexia. In another scene, a woman tells of her parents forcing her to have a nose job. She liked her old, big nose. It’s all about young women being forced to conform to society’s ideal of beauty, regardless of how they feel.
There are cringe-worthy scenes, such as when one talks about how her lover could not transmit AIDS because “he’s too young and too smart.”
“I was practicing abstinence, but I don’t know how to apply it,” one character says.
Among the qualities that make Ensler important and wonderful is that she puts on stage what so many feel, but keep quiet.
“I’m not gay. I’m not straight. I’m Stephanie,” says one character.
Then there are the victims. The girl who was raped at 12; her father beat her with wooden furniture, then cast her out.
“I am a garbage can,” she says. “I don’t know why I was born.” Used as a sex slave, she advises, “Build a hole inside yourself and climb in.”
When a young woman is talking to God on the savannah in Tanzania, where she ran away to avoid having her genitals mutilated, she says, “I cannot believe you would want my clitoris cut. I just discovered it. You told us to never cut a tree. Why would you cut me?”
There’s a fun number about how a short skirt is not an invitation to rape. Yes, Ensler preaches but she has much to preach about.
A girl (Olivia Oguma) who works in a factory in China making Barbie dolls says, “She is so much smarter than they will let her be.” And the “Free Barbie” chant is terrific. The play is topical and includes a “Free Pussy Riot” moment.
Though the individual stories may seem disconnected, they are all very much interwoven as the global experiences of young women, all trying to accept themselves and make their way into an often-terrifying world.
Few people understand that better than Ensler.