Being a person of the guy persuasion, I'm probably not equipped, so to speak, to fully appreciate "The Vagina Monologues." I can report that on the opening night of its run in Northampton, Mass., on a national tour, we guys were in the minority by a factor of about a hundred to one.
"The Vagina Monologues" is less than a play, and more than just a piece of theater. It's a phenomenon -- a movement, even. This unpretentious, largely good-humored collection of anecdotes, confessions, jokes, and occasional accusations has become a rallying point for women to reclaim not just their sexuality, but their innermost selves. Since it opened off-Broadway five years ago, the "Monologues" have generated a passionate following. In addition to its continuing run in New York, on the road, and around the world, numerous ad hoc performances are given every Valentine's Day (rechristened "V-Day") to benefit the fight against the physical and sexual abuse of women.
"The Vagina Monologues" is just what it says it is -- a string of soliloquies, performed here by a trio of women, dressed in striking red tops and black pants, seated on high stools behind microphones. In a brief hundred minutes, it investigates just about everything associated with its title topic, from menstruation to orgasm to childbirth. The monologues are based on interviews playwright Eve Ensler had with over 200 women. In addition to soliciting their stories -- some of them poignant, some very funny, some painful -- she asked each of them two questions. One was "If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?" Some of the answers: "An evening gown." "Emeralds." "A large hat full of flowers." "Lace and combat boots." "Something machine washable."
Ensler originally did the show on her own, but on this tour the monologues are divided among three performers. And there's a gimmick: Two actresses travel with the show, and at each stop a local guest celebrity takes the third stool. In Northampton, it was singer-songwriter Dar Williams. Though she's strictly a musician these days, she first considered a career in theater, and her early training pays off. She easily holds her own beside the pros.
Williams performed the evening's funniest -- and sexiest -- episode, in which a tax lawyer-turned-sex worker gives a lecture- demonstration on the myriad varieties of ... moaning. But her co- stars were no supporting cast. Each of them got her own tour de force. Starla Benford's was the report of an uptight, upper-crust matron attending a getting-in-touch-with-your-vagina workshop. She begins by confessing that up till then, "everything I knew about my vagina was based on hearsay or invention," but she ends in amazement and joy.
Among several effective turns, Sherri Parker Lee delivered a hilarious, ticked-off diatribe against her top-four list of vaginal torture devices: tampons, deodorants, pelvic exams, and thong underwear. But this show is not all sassy jibes and "women celebrating women." Those American "tortures" are immediately counterpointed by a Bosnian woman's horrific account of how she was brutally and repeatedly violated by Serbian soldiers. There's also an appalling, infuriating description of genital mutilation.
In fact, a poignant undercurrent flows through a lot of "The Vagina Monologues." Perhaps part of the show's phenomenal appeal to women is its healing quality, its mix of defiant celebration and tender mourning for something that has been the subject of too many dirty jokes and ancient taboos. The other question Eve Ensler asked her interviewees was this: If your vagina could talk, what would it say? Their replies included, "Remember me?" "Enter at your own risk," "Slow down," and, "Find me."
Guys ... listen up.
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