TIME: Your previous works have focused largely on women's views of their bodies. Your new play, The Treatment, however, is about a serviceman tormented by atrocities he may have committed while on duty in the Middle East. What inspired the new topic?
Ensler: I'm generally obsessed with the subject of violence and one person having power over another. I think that's been true in all my plays. After Abu Ghraib happened, I wanted to pose the question: how do good and decent people do terrible deeds? I have a profound hunger to understand that, especially having grown up in a household where I had this very attractive, successful father who was incredibly violent.
Dylan McDermott, your adopted son, stars in the play. How did that come about?
I'd written two different plays for him before this. When I started to write Treatment, I thought it would be a perfect role for him. There are aspects to him that people just haven't seen. He's perceived as very handsome and charming, but people don't know his complexity or how raw he can be. He's a really brave actor.
In your new book,Insecure at Last, you give a highly personal take on our culture's current obsession with security. What led you to this subject?
The airports. I was at an airport about a year and a half ago where in the course of 20 minutes, each place that I went to searched for different things: toothpicks, rubber bands, you name it. It was security madness. Afterwards, I started hearing the word everywhere: security alert, security check, security clearance, security this, security that. I was like, "What's going on?"
Are Americans really more obsessed with security than other cultures?
I think we are. Most of the world lives in dire poverty. They don't really know a lot about security to begin with. Since 9/11, the most important thing to Americans is to be secure. This chip implanted in us causes people to shut down, isolate and think of themselves: "I'm going to take care of me. I'll worry about my group and my identity." Any vision of the world is sacrificed for that. We've seen it with the war in Iraq. The fear button gets pushed and everyone is like, "Let's go after Saddam Hussein."
What personally makes you insecure?
There are a lot of ways in which I feel insecure, but I'm fine with it. I've learned to live with ambiguity and learned to tolerate mystery. I live alone. I don't have a partner. If you had told me 10 years ago that I'd be okay with that insecurity, I don't know that I would have believed you. But being free and independent, as much as it terrifies me, there's such a joy in it.
It sounds like you've chilled out.
I wouldn't say "chilled out." I think I'm more passionate and more driven than ever. But I'm not coming at it from the same place. For so much of my life, I was doing things because my father had implanted in me this profound need to be approved of. But it's crazy to fight for change and then want people to like you. Now that I'm in my 50s, I know who I am. I'm desperately concerned with stopping violence against women, stopping wars and stopping the destruction of the environment. I don't care if people love me for it or not.