“And speaking of cultural events in the Luce (Dumaguete is buzzing these days with the parade of shows), the last show for the first half of the cultural season is New Voice Company's production of Eve Ensler's 'The Good Body'... The Dumaguete production, slated this Friday, September 21, will feature Monique Wilson herself, together with Juno Henares and Lily Chu.”
This, only a few weeks after internationally renowned conductor Helen Quach came to town to conduct the Manila Symphony Orchestra in a concert that Ian called “an evening of classical music that proved a resonating fulfillment for both head and heart--and, yes, ears. For once, the typically testy Dumaguete crowd was moved.”
Way to go for Dumaguete, and may it continue to spread the welcome mat for the performing arts. The value of artists like Ms. Quach and Ms. Wilson sharing their considerable talents with people and places outside of Manila cannot be overstated; the provinces need as much cultural and creative sustenance as the country's capital. Unfortunately, lack of money almost always gets in the way. Touring a theater production, much less an entire orchestra, entails expense, and many towns and provinces are simply too poor to pony up their share of the cost in accommodating visiting artists.
Dumaguete, hallowed ground for the Philippine literary world with its legendary Silliman National Writers' Workshop, is lucky to have an apparently active, passionate group of people who also have the financial wherewithal to support such activities. Better yet, in “The Good Body,” the city is bringing in not one of those safe, bland, conventional theater chestnuts, but a piece that sears, provokes, pushes boundaries, draws blood. One that had many in Manila blushing furiously beneath their nervous laughter during its first run late last year. The brave choice speaks highly of Dumaguete and its arts movers. Kudos to them!
Here's what I said then of Eve Ensler's play (from “Singing nuns and near-anorexics in one weekend,” PDI, December 4, 2006):
On the weekend “The Sound of Music” opened, one of its Marias was at Music Museum performing in a play whose forthright language would make the nuns of Nonnberg Abbey cross themselves.
Monique Wilson, together with Pinky Amador [Lily Chu in the Dumaguete production] and Juno Henares, headlined the New Voice Company’s production of Eve Ensler’s new play “The Good Body” for two days--material that many would consider radioactive but, with direction from Rito Asilo, they brought to pulsating life.
“The Good Body,” which charts Ensler’s struggles with body issues such as fat, cellulite and aging and how such issues affect other women across the globe, can be hilarious, scabrous and revelatory all at the same time. But it can also be a scold--repetitive, polemical and obsessed with itself.
Unlike “The Vagina Monologues,” which has a clear and unifying springboard in questions of patriarchy and gender oppression, “The Good Body” deals with dilemmas that many women impose on themselves without prodding from anyone. Whining about and starving one’s self to trim a puson, for instance--understandable in our image-obsessed culture but a dilemma that becomes sillier by the minute as Ensler encounters more authentic life-and-death struggles for women.
Still, Ensler must be seen as an urgent voice in drama for her flair in transforming the bluntly sociopolitical into pieces of gripping, thought-provoking theater.
Nowhere was this more obvious in “The Good Body” than when she drew a devastating parallel between her reluctance to eat ice cream for fear of getting fat, and an Afghan woman risking life and limb under the Taliban just to taste the delicacy.
Wilson didn’t play Ensler in “The Good Body.” Amador did, and she was more than adequate in the part.
Wilson herself slipped in and out of several characters, but her most exquisite moment was a wordless piece of slapstick involving a treadmill and several imaginary harridans in an Indian gym.
The flashiest vignettes--a fat woman protesting the stereotype of their kind as people who “always swallow,” for instance--went to the comebacking Rep-trained Juno Henares, who was fantastic.
Henares had a sure feel for both the comic punchline and the dramatic pause—a good skill to have in a play whose every funny line seemed weighted with a darker undertow. The stage has clearly missed her, and vice versa. Let’s hope she’s returning for good this time.
Enjoy “The Good Body” tonight, Dumaguete!