In the wake of losing my mother to lung cancer just after Thanksgiving, one of the last things I wanted to do was see a play about a woman fighting the cursed disease. But Eve Ensler’s daring, delightful one-woman show, In the Body of the World, which opened tonight at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage I at City Center, is bursting with the affirmation of life and the celebration of joy. In 2010, the Tony- and Obie-winning writer of The Vagina Monologues and The Treatment was diagnosed with cancer; she first wrote about it in her 2013 memoir, In the Body of the World, which she has now successfully adapted for the stage. Ensler divides the eighty-minute performance, directed with flair by two-time Tony winner Diane Paulus (Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess), into three sections, “Somnolence,” “Burning,” and “Second Wind,” as she honestly and often poetically talks about her childhood and her family and relates her cancer to things much bigger than herself. “A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. I have been exiled from my body. I was ejected at a young age and I got lost,” she says at the beginning. “For years I have been trying to find my way back to my body, and to the earth. I guess you could say it’s a preoccupation.” Ensler strides about Myung Hee Cho’s set, consisting of a wooden chair, a credenza with an altar/cabinet on top, and a chaise longue, which serves as Ensler’s loft, her hospital room, and her hotel room in what she calls Cancer Town, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Ensler, a twice-divorced vegetarian and activist who was fifty-six at the time of her diagnosis, had stopped drinking in her twenties and quit smoking in her thirties, so the cancer came as somewhat of a shock, especially when she learned she would have to have her “mother parts,” her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and some of her vagina, removed. “Do you have any idea who I am? Do you have any fucking sense of irony?” she tells the doctor.
Ensler exposes her body and her soul as she goes through chemo and becomes involved in the creation of City of Joy, a community of women survivors of rape and violence in Bukavu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, run by Dr. Denis Mukwege and Mama C, aka Christine Schuler-Deschryver. (The amazing work they do is documented in Madeleine Gavin’s extraordinary 2016 film, City of Joy.) Ensler says that Dr. Mukwege “was literally sewing up the vaginas of rape survivors as fast as the militias were tearing them apart. . . . There were hundreds of these stories. They all began to bleed together. The destruction of vaginas. The pillaging of minerals. The raping of the earth. But inside these stories of unspeakable violence, inside the women, was a determination and a life force I had never witnessed.” Refusing to feel sorry for herself, Ensler reexamines her place in the greater world, continually working to teach people to stop sleepwalking through life and start taking responsibility for themselves and others, using this stage as a wake-up call for all of us.
Occasionally projections by Finn Ross cover the stage and the back wall, depicting protests, scenes of nature, people at City of Joy, certain key words, and a tree that deeply impacts Ensler’s recovery. She sometimes flirts with new agey ideas and twelve-step jargon — and she tries to get everyone up and dancing at one point in a rather goofy moment — but, being Eve Ensler, she also finds time to briefly fire away at political and social injustice. And then, at the end, she offers a magical surprise that every audience member should experience instead of rushing to get home; I wouldn’t dare give it away, but you can get a look at what it is here if you can’t help yourself. Ensler, a New York City native, is also a founder of V-Day, “a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls” that in 2018 is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of The Vagina Monologues with special events on and around Valentine’s Day. This year’s V-Day motto is “Rise, Resist, Unite,” which is also the route Ensler took in her fight against cancer, as depicted in this warm and very funny performance. I wish my mother were around to have experienced it for herself.
It’s always a thrill to see Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, a Dance Company, bring its electrifying work to the Joyce, or anywhere, for that matter. Founded by Brown in 1985, the Brooklyn-based troupe dazzles audiences with its unique and inspired integration of traditional African dance with contemporary movement while emphasizing a strong sense of community and a social conscience. Evidence will be at the Joyce February 6-11, highlighted by the world premiere of Den of Dreams, a duet performed by Brown and Bessie winner Arcell Cabuag in celebration of Cabuag’s twentieth anniversary as associate artistic director, a job that includes teaching master classes and working with dance schools around the globe. Evidence will also present the company premiere of American Spirit, a 2009 work Brown choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in honor of Judith Jamison’s twentieth anniversary as AAADT artistic director, featuring music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead, and War and melding Afro-Cuban and Brazilian styles. Also on the bill are 2002’s Come Ye, a call for peace set to the music of Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, and March, a duet, excerpted from 1995’s Lessons, set to a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., being performed as a tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of the reverend’s assassination. Opening night will also feature Upside Down, an excerpt from Brown’s 1998 Destiny, with music by Wunmi. The season is part of Carnegie Hall’s wide-ranging festival “The ’60s: The Years that Changed America” and will include a curtain chat following the February 7 show, a master class on February 9, and a family matinee on February 10. The dynamic company includes rehearsal director Annique Roberts, assistant rehearsal director Keon Thoulouis, Shayla Caldwell, Kevyn Ryan Butler, Courtney Paige, Demetrius Burns, and Janeill Cooper.
The Brooklyn Public Library and Theater of War Productions pay tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s final sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” with a free dramatic reading at the Central Library branch at Grand Army Plaza on February 4 at 2:00. Inspired by the tenth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel and J. Wallace Hamilton’s 1952 homily, “Drum-Major Instincts,” Dr. King delivered the speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on February 4, 1968; he would be assassinated exactly two months later. “There is deep down within all of us an instinct. It’s a kind of drum major instinct — a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life,” Dr. King said. The piece will be performed by American actress Samira Wiley, who starred as Moira in The Handmaid’s Tale and Poussey Washington in Orange Is the New Black, accompanied by the Phil Woodmore Singers, the gospel choir that performed in Theater of War’s adaptation of Antigone in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the shooting of Michael Brown. Among the members of the choir are Duane Foster, a former teacher of Brown’s, and Lt. Latricia Allen, commander of the Community Engagement Unit of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, in addition to other musicians, educators, activists, and police officers. The sermon will be followed by a guided audience discussion about racism and social justice, led by choir member and Ferguson social worker DeAndrea Blaylock-Johnson and Theater of War artistic director Bryan Doerries. “Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator — that something that we call death,” King preached. “We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I would want said?’ And I leave the word to you this morning.”
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, February 3, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum honors Black History Month with its free February First Saturday program, featuring live performances by Aaron Abernathy, the Skins, Brooklyn Dance Festival, Everyday People, Latasha Alcindor (presenting All a Dream: Intro to Latasha), and Urban Word NYC, including teen poets William Lohier, Shakeva Griswould, Roya Marsh, Jive Poetic, and Anthony McPherson, hosted by Shanelle Gabriel; a screening of Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s Whose Streets? followed by a discussion with Folayan and museum Teen Night Planning Committee senior member Elizabeth Rodriguez; pop-up gallery talks by teen apprentices in the “American Art” galleries; a community talk by Kleaver Cruz, founder of the Black Joy Project; a Black Joy photo booth with photographer Dominique Sindayiganza; a hands-on workshop inspired by the scratch and resist technique of Jean-Michel Basquiat; a curator talk by Eugenie Tsai on Basquiat’s “Untitled” (1982), part of the exhibition “One Basquiat”; and the community talk “Malcolm X in Brooklyn” by oral historian Zaheer Ali. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “One Basquiat,” “Roots of ‘The Dinner Party’: History in the Making,” ““Arts of Korea,” “Infinite Blue,” “Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys,” “Rodin at the Brooklyn Museum: The Body in Bronze,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” and more.
MINUSCULE: VALLEY OF THE LOST ANTS (Thomas Szabo & Hélène Giraud, 2013)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall, Le Skyroom, FIAF Gallery
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Friday, February 2, $15-$20 ($40 for double feature and launch party), 7:00
Festival runs February 2-4, festival passes $60-$120
Even though the opening night selection of FIAF’s “Animation First” festival is Thomas Szabo and Hélène Giraud’s Minuscule, there is nothing minuscule about the festival itself. The French Institute Alliance Française is packing a whole lotta stuff into one mere weekend, February 2-4, including dozens of short and feature-length movies, postscreening Q&As, panel discussions, workshops, a free Augmented Reality exhibit by Sutu, a free Virtual Reality Arcade, and a big party. The French festival, the first of its kind in the United States, kicks off with Szabo and Giraud’s charming 2013 Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants, being shown in 3D. Combining live-action backgrounds with digital animation, the eighty-eight-minute delight tracks a lost little ladybug who meets up with a colony of black ants scouring the remains of a picnic after a human couple is forced to skedaddle when the pregnant lady goes into labor. At first the ant is suspicious of the playful ladybug, but soon the ladybug, who slightly resembles Kenny from South Park, proves her worth and becomes part of the team. However, when the evil red ants come looking to steal the black ants’ latest treasure, blocks of brown sugar cubes, the future is suddenly doubtful for the black ants and the ladybug.
The film is expanded from Szabo and Giraud’s French animated television series, which consisted of two seasons (2006 and 2012) totaling more than 175 mostly two-to-six-minute shorts focusing on numerous insects involved in various situations. In the feature film, the story gets repetitive at times and the sound effects can be a bit too silly (and also wildly funny), but the ladybug is so cute you’ll forgive such small problems. The film deals with loneliness, friendship, dedication, hate, teamwork, and war, all beautifully photographed and designed, with an ever-changing score by Hervé Lavandier built around multiple genres. And nary a word is spoken; there is no dialogue whatsoever, but you’ll know exactly what is happening because of Szabo and Giraud’s unique storytelling skill. Winner of the César for Best Animated Feature Film, Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants is screening February 2 at 7:30, followed by a launch party for kids and adults. However, only grown-ups will be able to stick around for “Erotic Animated Shorts,” a collection of nine naughty quickies not suitable for les enfants. Below are more highlights of this whirlwind festival.
Saturday, February 3
Loulou and Other Wolves, followed by a Q&A with director Serge Elissalde, Florence Gould Hall, $10-$14, 11:30 am
The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit, 2016), introduced by Dudok de Wit, Florence Gould Hall, $10-$14, 2:00
Conversation: The Making of The Red Turtle, a success story, with Michael Dudok de Wit, free, Le Skyroom, 4:00
Panel Discussion: The French Touch in Animation, with Michael Dudok de Wit, Christophe Jankovic, Chance Huskey, and Kristof Serrand, Le Skyroom, free, 6:00
Ciné-Concert: Pioneers of French Animation, Florence Gould Hall, $10-$14, 6:45
Sunday, February 4
Work in Progress: Terry Gilliam and Tim Ollive’s 1884: Yesterday’s Future, Le Skyroom, $10-$14, 12:15
Surrealist Poems of Robert Desnos, Animated: En Sortant de l’école, followed by a Q&A with Xavier Kawa-Topor, Le Skyroom, $10-$14, 4:00
Renaissance (Christian Volckman, 2006), Florence Gould Hall, $10-$14, 4:30
More than two dozen sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots have not diluted in the slightest the grandeur of the original 1954 version of Godzilla, one of the greatest monster movies ever made. If you’ve only seen the feeble, reedited, Americanized Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, made two years later with Canadian-born actor Raymond Burr inserted as an American reporter, well, wipe that out of your head. On February 2, Japan Society is screening the real thing, the restored treasure as part of its Monthly Classics series; it will be followed on February 21 with “Directing Godzilla: The Life of Filmmaker Ishirō Honda,” a talk with Steve Ryfle, author of Ishirō Honda: A Life in Film, From Godzilla to Kurosawa, moderated by Film Forum repertory programming director Bruce Goldstein, whose Rialto Pictures released the film in theaters in 2004 and 2014, followed by a book signing and reception with many old Godzilla posters and memorabilia items on view.
The film was inspired by Eugène Lourié’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and a real incident involving the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, a tuna-fishing boat that got hit by radioactive fallout in January 1954 from a U.S. test of a dry-fuel thermonuclear device in the Pacific Ocean. Writer-director Ishirō Honda and cowriter Takeo Murata expanded on Shigeru Kayama’s story, focusing on a giant dinosaur under the sea who comes back to life after H-bomb testing by the U.S. Standing 165 feet tall and able to breathe atomic gas, Godzilla — known as Gojira in Japanese, a combination of gorira, the Japanese word for gorilla, and kujira, which means whale — wreaks havoc on Japanese towns as he makes his way toward Tokyo. While the military and the government want to destroy the creature — who is played by Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka in a monster suit, tramping over miniature houses, streets, cars, trains, and buildings using the suitmation technique (both men also make cameos outside the costume) — Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) wants to study Godzilla to find out how the radiation only makes it stronger instead of destroying it. (Throughout, Godzilla is referred to as “it” and not “he,” perhaps because the creature is in part a representation of America and what it wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) “Godzilla was baptized in the fire of the H-bomb and survived. What could kill it now?” Dr. Yamane asks. Meanwhile, one of Dr. Yamane’s assistants, Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), is working on a secret oxygen destroyer that he will show only to his fiancée, Yamane’s daughter, Emiko (Momoko Kōchi), who is having trouble telling Dr. Serizawa that she is actually in love with salvage ship captain Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada). “Godzilla’s no different from the H-bomb still hanging over Japan’s head,” Ogata tells Dr. Yamane, who is none too pleased with his take on the situation. Through it all, the media risks everything to get the story.
Even for 1954, many of the special effects, photographed by Masao Tamai, are cheesy but fun, and composer Akira Ifukube’s fiercely dramatic score goes toe-to-toe with the monster. The Toho film is no mere monster movie but instead is filled with metaphors and references about WWII and the use of atomic bombs, examining it from political and socioeconomic vantage points while questioning the future of technological advances. “But what if your discovery is used for some horrible purpose?” Emiko asks Dr. Serizawa, who wears an eye patch, as if he can only see part of things. Godzilla could only have come from Japan, much like King Kong was purely an American creation produced by Hollywood; in fact, the two went at it in Honda’s 1962 film, King Kong vs. Godzilla. The next year, Akira Kurosawa would make I Live in Fear (Ikimono no kiroku), an intense psychological drama about the nuclear holocaust’s effects on one man, a factory owner played by Toshirô Mifune — who meets with a dentist portrayed by Kurosawa regular Shimura — a kind of companion piece to Godzilla. Honda, who served as an assistant director to Kurosawa on many films before making his own pictures, would go on to make such other sci-fi flicks as Rodan, The H-Man, Mothra, and Destroy All Monsters, but it was on Godzilla that he got everything right, capturing the fate of a nation in the aftermath of nuclear devastation while still managing to gain sympathy for the monster. It is also difficult to watch the film in 2018 without thinking of America’s current debate over illegal immigration and fear of the other, particularly when Godzilla approaches an electrified fence meant to keep him out, as well as the threat of nuclear war as President Trump battles Kim Jon Un on Twitter.
Galerie St. Etienne
24 West 57th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday, February 1, free (advance RSVP recommended), 6:30
Exhibition continues Tuesday – Saturday through March 10, free
Galerie St. Etienne brings together two of its most popular artists in “All Good Art Is Political: Käthe Kollwitz and Sue Coe,” revealing compelling similarities in their work, from their style and themes to their socialist, feminist, and activist beliefs. On February 1, the British-born Coe, who has claimed the Prussian-born German artist as a major influence (along with Goya, Soutine, and others), will be at the Fifty-Seventh St. gallery for a talk about her career. The exhibition, which has been extended through March 10, creates a dialogue between their works, consisting primarily of black-and-white drawings, etchings, woodcuts, linocuts, lithographs, and collages that focus on powerful scenes of prisoners, riots, torture, war, and violence along with emotional depictions of women trying to protect children from seen and unseen horrors in a brutal society. “My art serves a purpose. I want to exert an influence in my own time, in which human beings are so helpless and destitute,” Kollwitz (Revolt of the Weavers, Peasant War), who was born in 1867 and died in 1945, said. Coe (Dead Meat, Sheep of Fools), who was born in 1951, has taken up Kollwitz’s mantle, following her journalistic approach. “People think they can be indifferent, and the filter of art is a useful veil to present the reality,” Coe says. “It opens up a chance to have a useful dialogue where the viewer asks questions and is more open to the challenge of change.” Coe’s angry “How to Commit Suicide in South Africa” and “Vigilante” share much in common with Kollwitz’s “Never Again War” and “Free Our Prisoners,” bearing witness and demanding societal overhaul. Coe’s rallying cry “Stop Violence” is a kind of combination of Kollwitz’s “The Volunteers” and “Outbreak/Charge.”
Coe also extends those themes from humans to animals, which also relates to Kollwitz, who compared “survivors” to “women huddled together in a black lump, protecting their children just as animals do with their own brood,” as explained in the gallery’s outstanding expansive essay about the show. In “Safe at Last (Rescued),” from Coe’s The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto, a woman holds a calf like a child, echoing Kollwitz’s “Seed-Corn Must Not Be Ground,” where a woman uses her broad arms to protect three young kids. Coe’s “Veal Skinner,” a graphite drawing of a sad man standing next to a large, skinned animal carcass hanging upside down, evokes Kollwitz’s “Hunger,” in which a skeletal woman puts her hands over her eyes so she cannot see the dead child on her lap. Hands play a major role in both artists’ oeuvre, clutching at prison bars, reaching up in defiance, holding a weapon, cradling an infant, scrubbing ham, pounding drums, emerging from a small sculpture of a group of women, held up to a face in desperation, and tied behind a black man’s back. Both artists also do not shy away from a boldness that eschews subtlety, although Coe takes it to another level with such recent work as “Unpresidented,” a linocut of Donald Trump grabbing the Statue of Liberty from behind, covering her mouth with one hand and grabbing her genitals with the other. So get ready for Coe, the natural successor to Kollwitz, to hold nothing back at her Thursday gallery talk about art’s role in a changing society.