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Up close with the Vagina Monologist 

Plus, an update on Carl McIntyre

Eve Ensler checked into McGlohon Theatre earlier this month for a brief run of her latest work, The Good Body. She even lingered after her Nov. 2 performance to chat with the audience.

But not before we got to her. We had a pithy conversation with Ensler back in September. True, we hadn't seen her live performance. So the subject of swallowing didn't come up.

A complete edited transcript appears online. Here are some excerpts:

CL: In The Good Body, it seems like you tread a very thin tightrope between asking women not to be preoccupied or obsessed with their bodies and encouraging them to inhabit their bodies. Does that become a difficult tightrope for you to walk as a person and as an artist?

Eve Ensler: What I would say is that when women are outside their bodies, they are usually obsessed by their bodies. They need to justify them, modify them and see them as these things they have to fix and change and make better. But when women are inhabiting themselves, something else begins to take place. Like the lady says in Africa, "Your bodies are like pictures to you. From here, we live in our bodies. They do our work." And I think when you live in your body, it's really hard to kind of pick it apart. Because you're in it!

A lot of people would say that it's a major feat of the imagination for an Eve Ensler with all the publicity, fame and admiration that she's achieved with Vagina Monologues to be spending any time worrying about her own body!

I think in some ways that's the head point. Like wouldn't it just be great if admiration and love and money fixed it? But it doesn't! Is it nicer having money than when I was poor? Yes. Is it nicer to have people come see my work than when they didn't know who I was? Of course. But has it rid me of low self-esteem, has it stopped me from despising my stomach, do I wake up any day thinking, "Oh, I'm fabulous!" No! N-O.

Do you find you have to walk another tightrope of making your message seem too gender related? I mean, we're living in a culture where men are given pretty much equivalent messages.

It's so fascinating, because some of the men have come to see the show when I did it on Broadway and completely identified with it, you know? At the end of the play, originally it used to say, "I eat for the women, I eat for all of them." And these guys came to the show one night, and they all went out with me afterwards. They said, "We love the show, but we don't know why you just eat for the women at the end. Why aren't you eating for us?" And there was this huge debate! And I changed it after the show because I didn't realize how much men were identifying.

That sort of undermines the flavoring that women are victimized by a patriarchal society.

I think we're all victimized by a patriarchal society. I actually think men are far more victimized by patriarchy. The tyranny to be a man in a patriarchy is the greatest tyranny that men face.

Early in September, Carl McIntyre went in for his physical exam and emerged with a clean bill of health. The popular Charlotte actor was trim; his blood pressure was low. Cholesterol? Under control. Days later, he was zapped by a stroke, paralyzed on his right side, and unable to speak.

But apparently the toughness and determination that McIntyre has manifested in heroic roles onstage wasn't a sham. McIntyre quickly flashed his leading man grace and grit while weathering twin health crises at Mercy and Presbyterian Hospitals.

Doctors found that McIntyre's stroke was likely caused by a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a fairly common heart defect. PFO occurs when the normal opening between the upper chambers in a fetus's heart doesn't close after birth. Blood passing through the PFO can shoot upwards to the head and cause strokes. Or migraines.

Carl's wife, Elizabeth McIntyre, had gone back to work part-time earlier this year at the preschool where the couple's two youngest children go. Now she has a full-time job helping Carl on the road to rehabilitation and recovery. She's gotten quite an education along the way -- learning things she never knew about PFO, the tragicomic tribulations of nursing, speech therapy and the warmth of the Charlotte theater community.

First, a commonsensical joust with the medical profession.

"I asked the doctor," McIntyre recalls, "'Well, if there's 10 percent of us walking around with this hole or flap in our heart, why is there not some kind of screening done?' And they said that it really doesn't matter that much to most people. Well, it made a big difference in our little world!"

Three days after Carl's stroke on Sept. 15, the gravity of his condition sent shockwaves through the local theater world as we gathered for the Metrolina Theatre Awards at McGlohon Theatre. A Web site was already up and running when the hushed audience learned that their colleague was hospitalized. By the following afternoon, a Yahoo group was helping to shepherd moral and financial support.

Carl had to mend sufficiently before doctors could operate on his heart. That patchwork was done at Presbyterian on Sept. 30 -- and the patient was home the following day!

"Two days before his daughter Eliza's birthday," Elizabeth points out.

Fundraising action continued on behalf of the Carl McIntyre Rehab Fund with a golf tourney and a benefit auction at Booth Playhouse -- celebrating Carl's 45th birthday on Oct. 23. So far, Elizabeth estimates that $17,000 has been raised.

What people said at the benefit was as precious as what they gave.

"A lot of his acting students were there -- the first class he taught nine years ago," she confides. "They came up. They said, 'You changed my life. You touched my life.' People don't experience that until, like, their funeral, and then their family hears about it! I tell him, 'You're really lucky to see how much you mean to people and how much people care about you.' And that kind of summed it up for him as well."

Elizabeth currently chauffeurs Carl to speech therapy three times a week, working with him nonstop between sessions to conquer the letter D. He's hoping to add occupational therapy soon, keenly desiring to regain the privileged independence of driving a car.

The road to recovery will be long, but the pace of Carl's progress has consistently astonished people who have encountered him. At the hospital. Back home. Enjoying the fellowship of his friends at the Booth birthday bash. And playing all 18 holes at his own golf benefit -- without a cart!

Clearly, all the McIntyres have a lot to be thankful for. So does everyone who appreciates Carl's artistry and humanity.

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