What is that old cliché? I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me? Sometimes it's a cliché because it's true (I follow one cliché with another). But I did laugh and I did cry and The Vagina Monologues did become a part of me. And it happened in that order . . . well, iteratively. Because I laughed, then I laughed, then I cried. Then I laughed again and harder, and then cried again. Then walked out of the theater haunted by the monologues. They are surely a part of me now. And I'm a guy. The show also taught me a lot about the women in my life. I was also reminded that there is so much I can never completely learn, so much that only be known through experience.
There is no way to really talk about the play without talking about politics. Here are a couple more oft-heard phrases (more oft-heard in the corners of academia): the personal is political. Everything is political. I happen to believe both. The Vagina Monologues is about the construction of the female gender (obliquely also about the male gender, because it impacts so much on the female gender). The play began with the answers to a survey. One question asked women, "What would your vagina wear?" Another asked, "If your vagina could talk, what three words would it say?" The answers were hilarious and puzzling.
The results of the survey were delivered by Starla Benford, Kristen Lee Kelly, and Angi Taylor. The play opened and closed with the three seated in three identical chairs, chairs one might see in the corner coffee shop. They drank coffee or water and took turns with the answers and segued into longer monologues from women. A 72 year old woman had never looked at her vagina. Another woman had been assaulted by her father's friend while a child and finds liberation in a lesbian relationship. A third begins to love her vagina through the male gaze of a boyfriend (and recognizes how politically incorrect that might be). The monologues were by turns poignant and uproarious.
The timing and tone of the three women was pitch perfect. Each moved from casual delivery to vernacular to regional and international accents fluidly. The use of voices could have been a misstep, making light of particular experience, or simply ringing wrong in the ears of the audience. Benford, Kelly, and Taylor avoided this; instead, the impersonations heightened the emotional impact of the monologues, giving each a unique resonance. There was a genuine sense of walking into each person's life.
The most riveting for this reviewer was the monologue from a Bosnian woman who had been a victim of repeated and violent rape during the war there. Rape as tactic of battle. Her experience was wrenching and there was no way to turn away from the brutality. In the news, these things fade in the language of politics and reportage. Experience is generalized and euphemized and lost. This monologue pushed through the meaningless banter of the evening news to reveal the personal. The personal is very political.
And from that monologue, Benford, Kelly, and Taylor moved perfectly to humor. A humor textured and deepened by the horror that is everywhere. There is a moment of re-ownership of language that was stunning in its power. I won't say anything more. This is a play that must be experienced. This performance was - and here I come with another cliché - a tour de force. I do feel at a loss for words; I struggle to find the language that does enough service to the words of Eve Ensler and the performances of Starla Benford, Kristen Lee Kelly, and Angi Taylor.
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