Playwright Eve Ensler has turned her feminist work The Vagina Monologues into a cottage industry, parlaying repeated, star-studded readings of the piece into an Off-Broadway hit, as well as productions in Chicago, Los Angeles and London, and a multi-nation tour. The fame of the title has almost obscured the fact that she wrote other plays before dedicating herself to Monologues.
Now, beginning Nov. 23, Hartford Stage reminds the theatre world that there is life beyond Monologues, as it premieres Ensler's latest work, Necessary Targets.
Targets is based on interviews Ensler conducted, Anna Devere Smith-like, with women who survived the atrocities and warfare which reigned during the 1990s in the states which made up the former Yugoslavia—a conflict which was known for the use of sexual violence against women as a war tactic. From these conversations, Ensler shaped a drama about two American women who—somewhat like the playwright herself—travel to Bosnia to help female victims confront their experiences. One character is a Park Avenue psychiatrist, the other a young writer.
Ensler, always well-connected, elicited a quote about the play from actress Meryl Streep (who took part in an early reading of the work). Streep wrote, "[Necessary Targets is] a journey into the very human stories behind the headlines—a brave, powerful, and crucial testimony against violence aimed at women as an act of war." Targets was developed in Hartford Stage's Brand:NEW festival.
The cast includes Shirley Knight (as J.S.) and Catherine Kellner (Melissa). Filling the roles of the Bosnian people they interview are Diane Venora (Zlata), Alyssa Bresnahan (Jelena), Rosemary Murphy (Azra), Marika Dominczyk (Seada) and Maria Thayer (Nuna). Michael Wilson directs. The production runs through Dec. 23. Knight last appeared on Broadway in Horton Foote's The Young Man From Atlanta, while Venora starred opposite Liev Schreiber in Hamlet and Kelsey Grammer in Macbeth, and Murphy was last seen as one of the theatrical retirees in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings.
—By Robert Simonson