Ensler is not totally unaware of the irony of plunking these privileged support-group ambassadors into postwar chaos. Her Bosnian characters occasionally voice suspicion and disdain. One of the therapists struggles honestly with the accusation that the therapy they're purveying is patronizing. But Ensler leaves herself little room to explore that issue by creating so many characters that are cartoonish primitives. "You are so pretty and so modern," one of them fawns, touching the clothing of the therapist. This same character wonderingly recounts hearing a strange tale that in America people lie down on couches and tell their stories to a type of head doctor. This is simply not a credible way for this particular character to express her unworldliness. I'm sure I'm not the only person in the audience who remembered that psychotherapy was invented a century ago in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Bosnia was a part.
Ensler does not try to disguise that she's a writer of message plays, this one's message being that women deserve to have their stories told. Here, though, she's miscalculated. In trying to find the connections between women that supersede the bonds with family or culture, she has buried her best material in a banal message about the wonders of women getting in touch with their feelings.
Necessary Targets continues its five-week run at Performance Network Thursday through Sunday, through March 9.
[Originally published in March, 2003.]