PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Good Body

News   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Good Body The elevator doors at Guastavino's slowly open on its second floor — known to a rarefied few as Club Guastavino — and in step four Oscars, named (alphabetically) Sally Field and Jane Fonda, both longtime champions of feminist icon Eve Ensler, bringing a sense of occasion and glamour to the occasion of Ensler's Broadway debut in The Good Body.
From Top: Eve Ensler, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Marisa Tomei, Havey Keitel, Julia Stiles, Shiva Rose and Dylan McDermott, Joe Mantello, Kate Burton, Mario Cantone and Susan Hilferty
From Top: Eve Ensler, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Marisa Tomei, Havey Keitel, Julia Stiles, Shiva Rose and Dylan McDermott, Joe Mantello, Kate Burton, Mario Cantone and Susan Hilferty Photo by Aubrey Reuben

I love them. I really love them. So what am I going to do? Get out of the elevator? Not bloody likely. "Main floor, ladies?" I ask benignly, pushing some button or other that closes the door. Then I smile, introduce myself and whip out my trusty tape recorder.

Neither actually grimaces, but it's plain from the parsimonious repartee which follows that they feel their skin is being peeled away in strips. Fonda manages a smile as best she can with that man-in-the-forest wildness in her eyes — it is The Famous Fonda Smile, and more than enough — plus, she looks spectacular in an exotic Afghanistan coat which she wore in honor of the last scene in Ensler's one-woman show that bowed Nov. 15 at the Booth.

I turn my attention to Field and tell her how I traveled to Washington in July to see her in The Glass Menagerie at the Kennedy Center's salute to Tennessee Williams. "Did you?" she coos back. "My little Laura [actress Jennifer Dundas] is here with me tonight."

"One of the best renderings of that play I've ever seen," I say with complete sincerity. "I wish New York had a chance to see it." Field smiles wanly. "Well, we want to," she says helplessly, "but there's another production getting ready to come in" (with Jessica Lange in March, from producer Bill Kenwright and director David Leveaux). "I hear they're struggling," she postscripts sotto voce and then takes the high road: "We wish them well."

At this crucial juncture, it is suddenly discovered that the elevator isn't moving at all, so somebody presses the proper button, and the descent belatedly commences in earnest. I turn back to the uneasy Fonda, who only recently started tiptoeing back into show business — opposite Jennifer Lopez, as the just-finished "Monster-in Law," her first flick in 14 years — and ask if she has any stage plans, knowing full well the answer. Save for a tribute here and there (like one to Lillian Hellman at Circle in the Square), Fonda hasn't been on Broadway since the 1963 Actors Studio revival of Strange Interlude. (Hollywood called.)

"I have no plans," she declares cleanly, adding with a smile, "I don't say never anymore."

That smile might be because the elevator has returned her and Field to the first floor and the opening-night party-in progress, which instantly benefits from their star light. As you could guess from actresses at home playing Hellman and Norma Rae, they use their celebrity sparingly and to causes or crusaders with whom they are politically in sync.

Fonda, in fact, has been instrumental in helping Ensler raise more than $26 million to support her V-Day Foundation, a nonprofit movement that funds grassroots groups working to stop violence against women and girls and helping those who are survivors of violence. A percentage of the profits for The Good Body will go to this foundation.

The cavernous Guastavino's suddenly makes sense as the party site for a one-person show when these two two-time Oscar winners enter — and fill — the room. Marisa Tomei, also an Oscar winner, and Harvey Keitel round out the Old Hollywood contingent at the bash.

The only other flickering of star power to be seen is from the New (but no less committed) Hollywood — Julia Stiles ("The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy"), who proudly crowed she just finished a London run of David Mamet's Oleanna with Aaron Eckhart and is currently shopping around for a possible stage project to do in New York, and Kerry Washington, who's getting some Oscar talk as Mrs. Ray Charles in "Ray" and will soon be seen on screen in "Fabulous Four" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Washington also played publicist for Shiva Rose McDermott, who, she says, is wonderful opposite David Moscow in a New York-set love story that just finished filming called "David and Lalya." On her own, McDermott says she has stage designs on A Doll's House in Los Angeles.

The latter's husband, Dylan ("The Practice," "The Grid") McDermott, lent his star presence to the proceedings because Ensler happens to be his former stepmother. In 1987, she was author of his Off-Broadway debut (at the Samuel Beckett Theatre on West 42nd), Scooncat. Some thought it a pretty sexual showcase coming from a parent — this from a woman who nine years later would make her name and fortune with The Vagina Monologues, a series of dramatized interviews that began in the basement of the Cornelia Street Cafe and quickly became a worldwide cottage industry and unifying call-to-action.

Peter Askin, the director of The Good Body, sees this sequel as going the same route as The Vagina Monologues, breaking a one-person show up into different parts so other actresses could share the wealth. "Eve's doing about 13 different characters, including herself," he says. "There is a plan — if this has a life and goes on — that we would bring three actresses in to do it. In some ways, it really lends itself to that. One actor could take Eve's role, and the other two actors could be different roles. It would become a play."

His next project is a new play by "American Pie" screenwriter Paul Weitz called Privilege. He'll put it into rehearsal in February for presentation at Second Stage Theatre. "It's about two young brothers, 12 and 15, whose father gets arrested for insider trading."

Isabella Rossellini and Cosmopolitan's Helen Gurley Brown, both characters in The Good Body, did not make the opening but are quite familiar with the project. "I read it to Helen before I did it," says Ensler, "and Isabella has seen it a few times already. She loves it."

In a bright and generally zippy 87 minutes, Ensler explores how women throughout the world feel about their bodies — ultimately, a matter of taking the good with the bad. "I want us to get out of this idea of 'good' that is being fabricated by The Bush Administration," Ensler says. "This black-and-white consciousness — that there is good or evil — I find very frightening. I want audience to feel that good is full of everything. It's full of darkness. It's full of outrage. It's full of humor. It's full of sexuality. It's full of happiness. I want people to look at our low-esteem and see how it's impacted in our life — often in how we feel about our bodies. I want us to see how we can use that to begin to love ourselves. If we do that, we might actually serve the world and heal other people."

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