‘Emotional Creature’ is heavy on emotion, light on depth 

click to enlarge Moving movement: Joaquina Kalukango has a powerful scene in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s premiere of “Emotional Creature.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Moving movement: Joaquina Kalukango has a powerful scene in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s premiere of “Emotional Creature.”

No one gets girl power quite like Eve Ensler. The Tony Award-winning playwright, activist, performer and author of “The Vagina Monologues” has spent much of her career writing about, advocating for, and celebrating the lives of women.

Yet “Emotional Creature,” her latest theater piece, registers mostly as a miss. Written by Ensler and directed by Jo Bonney, the show, now making its world premiere in a Berkeley Repertory Theatre production, never makes the deep, indelible impact of the playwright’s groundbreaking early works.

It’s not that the messages contained in “Emotional Creature” lack gravitas. Based on Ensler’s book, “I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World,” the 90-minute show explores — in monologues, poetry, song and dance — issues of sexuality, violence, eating disorders, teen pregnancy and more.

The six-woman cast is young, vibrant and fully committed. The music, a blend of techno-pop and heartfelt ballads, is infectious. The dance sequences, choreographed by Luam, are energetic. And Ensler’s message of female empowerment is essential.

Yet much of that message comes across like an infomercial. The writing has a generic quality. Ensler doesn’t explore the issues in depth, and she gives us types, not fully developed characters.

There are moments when the cast breaks through, communicating a sense of the personal.

The prodigiously gifted Joaquina Kalukango gives a harrowing account as a Congo rape victim. Olivia Oguma describes her days making Barbie dolls in a Chinese factory, comparing her “nightmare” home to Barbie’s dream house. Molly Carden recalls a series of events leading to a soul-crushing life as a teen prostitute.

Joined by Ashley Bryant, Emily S. Grosland and Sade Namel, the ensemble becomes a group of witty, fast-talking contributors to a “Hunger Blog” for women with serious food issues.

Bonney’s production is streamlined and supportive. Myung Hee Cho’s set combines three round platforms with a long, curving screen displaying photos, backdrops, slogans and statistics (“81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.”) Her costumes add to the show’s hip vibe.

Lap Chi Chu’s lighting and Shawn Sagady’s projections are fluid, and Charl-Johan Lingenfelder’s music, aided by Jake Rodriguez’s sound design, gives the show plenty of splash.

But all the production values, all the movement, all the activity, hasn’t given the show a dramatic center. “Emotional Creature,” we’re told, is “a girl thing.” But it still doesn’t feel like a play.

REVIEW

Emotional Creature

Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Where: Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays and Fridays, 7 p.m. most Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Thursdays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 15

Tickets: $14.50 to $73, discounts available

Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

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Georgia Rowe

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