Necessary Targets: A Story of Women and War by Eve Ensler, Villard Books, $12.95
The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, Villard Books, $19.95
“When we think of war, we think of the moment of violence—the blast, the explosion,” playwright Eve Ensler reflects in the introduction to Necessary Targets: A Story of Women and War. “But after the bombing, after the snipers, that’s when the real war begins.” In 1993, Ensler traveled to the former Yugoslavia to interview Bosnian women refugees. “I was…outraged that 20,000 to 70,000 women were being raped in the middle of Europe. . . as a systematic tactic of war,” writes Ensler, “and no one was doing anything to stop it.” The result of Ensler’s trip, published in 2001, is this unflinching dramatization of the women who went through the trauma of that war, and an American therapist and a refugee worker sent into help them.
Once they arrive. Necessary Targets raises the question of what it means to “help” in the midst of such devastation. The psychiatrist, J.S., is reserved and secure in her identity as one who guides from a safe distance. Melissa, her younger counterpart, is a veteran of refugee work in war-torn countries. As they work to unearth the women’s stories, a different sort of battleground emerges. Who will maintain control and who will unravel? Here in the refugee camp, an environment that by definition testifies to all that has been ravaged and lost, who will bring what is needed most? The play is heartbreaking, and Ensler’s words—based on real-life conversations—beg to be voiced aloud. This work bears witness to the fight to stay human and whole in the midst of the worst cruelty imaginable. The work opens as Off-Broadway this season in New York.
If Necessary Targets draws us into the dislocation of the aftermath of war. The Vagina Monologues, written in 1998, is a play about the restorative power of finding home exactly where we live. It is a groundbreaking work, currently enjoying a sold-outrun Off-Broadway and around the country. Colleges nationwide have staged February 14th “V-Day” productions of the play as part of a global movement to stop violence against women. The piece is based on Ensler’s interviews of over two hundred women across lines of age, race, class and sexual orientation, to talk about—what else?—their vaginas.
“If your vagina got dressed,” asks the narrator of the Vagina Monologues, “what would it wear? What would it say?” What emerges are responses that revel, stomp, vibrate, exult. A seventy-two year old woman talks about “down there” for the first time in her life (an essay that previewed in Lilith two years ago), and a six-year-old girl matter-of-factly informs us that “somewhere deep inside it I know it has a really really smart brain.” In weaving this tapestry together. Eve Ensler has given our most interior world back to us with candor, audacity, humor and love.
Rebecca Gutterman is a writer, theater artist, and third-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in New York.