If you're expecting a sob-fest starring girls whining about the sore deal that life has dealt them, you've walked into the wrong theatre. Poorbox Productions, which had us in splits for over ten years, with their rendition of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues has now set the stage for young girls to seize power, to expose reality in all its grotesqueness, to tell truths as unpalatable as they may be, to break free from the prisons of what is expected, and perhaps to change the world as women know it. Thoughtfully directed by Kaizaad Kotwal and Mahabanoo-Mody Kotwal, nine girls bring life to Eve Ensler's monologues, with non-sentimental acceptance of real-world scenarios. But they don't stop at acceptance...
From the Masai Girl (Kamalika Guha Thakurta) who walks miles, and miles, and miles, away from her home and genital mutilation to get herself an education, to the daring escape of a pregnant young girl (Karishma Mathur) who offers matter-of-fact instructions in A Teenage Girl's Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery, to a girl in a wedding dress (Priyanka Sethia) who has spent so much of her life blending in, that her only way out is to kill herself in On the White Rug—these are girls who take matters into their own hands.
Then there are the women unafraid to explore the dark recesses of their own minds and memories as It's Not a Baby, it's a Maybe, witnesses a teenager (Kallirroi Tziafeta) talk herself through a dilemma about a baby, that may very well not be, if she so decides. 35 Minutes, sees Swati Das in the skin of a girl speaking frankly about being sexually abused by her father's friend and subsequently sold to the sex trade. Pieces like The Joke About my Nose featuring Zaara Dastur and Hunger Blog featuring Uppekha Jain, draw attention to our image-obsessed culture. While Asking the Questions featuring Deena Mavji, does exactly what one might expect of a piece so titled. Then there is the ensemble My Short Skirt in which the girls assert their right to wear a short skirt without it being viewed an an announcement of lack of morality, an indication of sexual availability or an invitation for rape.
But perhaps the most memorable of the pieces, is a young Chinese girl assembling the heads of Barbies in a factory, trying to send young girls messages to be themselves by psyching her thoughts into the mind of each Barbie she assembles. “Free Barbie” is the message, she (Kathryn Tabone) is broadcasting through the telepathic messaging system she calls 'head-sent'—the only messaging system that will work in the sweatshop environs she is trapped.
As expected of an Eve Ensler script, all the pieces are rich in graphic (and emotional) detail, whether blood and guts flying all over the white rug and walls of a pristine room or the sheer guilt-free joy in a woman who escapes sex slavery, on learning that the father of her child is dead. The monologues are interspersed with dance sequences choreographed by Longinus Fernandes (of Slumdog Millionaire and Guzaarish fame) and snatches of music (that one wishes were woven in more smoothly).
The activistic message of the play outweighs it artistic merit. Will it encourage the girls of our world to find solidarity in an expression of their individuality, uncowed down by societal expectations? I certainly hope so. This is a play that should be staged out in the streets, where it can float into the ears of everyone with ears. Or perhaps, like the little Chinese girl, who makes the heads of Barbie dolls, the realities that this play highlights can be telepathically “head-sent” to every brain that's still open to ideas unadulterated by commercial revaluations.