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The Insane Optimist

Ensler undistracted: She'd rather change the world than change the channel.

“If America is the nuclear reactor pumping out the perfect, standardized female image, Hollywood’s the core.”

—Eve Ensler, The Good Body

Eve Ensler is ready to rumble with L.A.’s body-image machine; she’s been pumping her muscles on tour from St. Paul to Miami with The Good Body, the follow-up to her wildly hyped and produced The Vagina Monologues.

The superficial themes of this latest piece are her flabby belly and love-hate relationship with treadmills and bread, though Ensler has ambitions far greater than chick-lit commiseration. While her work has been largely body-centric, there is an ideological and material gulf between The Vagina Monologues and The Good Body. The first beheld a humble anatomical part and gave it heft and beauty, but her newest piece spotlights bedevilingly unruly hairs and loose thighs in an attempt to banish them altogether from women’s minds.

“We’re dangerously distracted,” says Ensler. “Our government is ending civil liberties. We have an imperial presidency. Frogs are dying.” But Ensler finds that, instead of fixing the world, women have been cowed into believing it’s more important to fix their appearance. “We spend $40 billion a year on beauty products in North America alone. Imagine what we could do with those billions.”

A self-described “insane optimist,” Ensler is the type of thinker who, when the nightly news gets her down, she vows to change the world rather than change the channel. Her blunt, simple, almost sophomoric character sketches reflect her restless idealism; the monologues are impatient and direct, a spray of bullets outlining her target like a gangster leaving her calling card. Tiffany, a hollowed-out, silicone-plumped trophy wife of a plastic surgeon, worries “what will happen when he runs out of parts of me to change”; Bernice, a teenager enlisted in fat camp, shoots dagger eyes at the “skinny bitches” who live on yogurt; Helen Gurley Brown, the 83-year-old ladies’ magazine grande dame, is sweating to weigh less than her age.

Because of the artificial and distancing way Ensler’s broad swaths lay bare society’s troubles, she reels in the audience by exposing her debilitating stomach-related anxieties. With her charismatic, catalytic energy, she says that “activism is contagious,” as though loving thine thighs is the first step toward saving everything from Roe v. Wade to ?the frogs.

“I tell women at my shows, ‘Put your self-hate on hold for 10 years and go out and fix the world.’?”

Cindy Sheehan, whom she met while doing a piece for O Magazine and describes as “brave, sincere, clear, unadorned and unpretentious,” is scheduled to join Ensler on February 2 ?for a post-performance talk on the ?strides women can take when they step ?off the scales.

“I see change, I see revolution. I’m incredibly hopeful,” grins Ensler, as ?she and her belly step out to heal the ?world.

Eve Ensler performs The Good Body at the Wadsworth Theater, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., W.L.A. (on the Veterans Administration grounds, Bldg. 226); Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; through Feb. 12. (213) 365-3500. Or visit www.wadsworththeatre.com and www.TheGoodBody.com.

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