Penn Presents, the exclusive Philadelphia premiere of Eve Ensler's, The Vagina Monologues at the Zellerbach Theatre, in the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in 16 public performances from October 3rd to the 8th, starring Carol Kane. It is easy to see why "The Vagina Monologues" won a 1997 Obie Award for best off-Broadway play, was nominated for Drama Desk and Helen Hayes Awards, and that it has toured internationally in Jerusalem, Berlin, Athens, Zagreb and London. It's hysterically funny and deeply disturbing at the same time. Ensler hits home with her comedy-because it's all based on the truth. We see the truth-we laugh, we cry. Gets us every time. Sitting in the dark, highly raked orchestra of the Zellerbach Theatre, I kept looking around at the audience. I don't think I've ever heard an audience literally "roar" with laughter the way I did that Wednesday night in Philadelphia. People screamed with delight, clapped and wiped away tears. The only person who has made me laugh more than Eve Ensler was Jackie Mason live in the Catskills in 1979, before Broadway discovered him. (In the Catskills they knew he was a genius 20 years ago.) But the point is you expect to laugh like that with a comedian- not with three ladies sitting on stools in front of microphones discussing a specific part of the female anatomy. That is the most amazing thing-there wasn't a single "boob" joke. (Haven't we had enough of those, anyway?) The mileage that Ms. Ensler gets out of this single piece of genitalia is literally awe inspiring, and I was mesmerized by "the writing"-by the sheer joy and brutal beauty of it.]
The way the evening is presented, one is forced to focus almost exclusively on "the words". And it is a pleasant change from our usually visually oriented society. Three women sit on stools in front of three microphones. They hold white cards in their hands. They are dressed in red blouses and black skirts or pants. The stools are tall and it looks as if none of the actresses are wearing shoes. Well, their feet don't touch the ground, so perhaps shoes would fall off during the performance, an unnecessary impediment, if you will. As the monologues are read, the cards are placed face down on a small table in front of each of the actresses, where they also have a cup of something to drink. This is the simple, almost rigid forum in which all hell breaks lose.
The monologues are based on interviews about female sexuality with a diverse group of more than 200 women-among them, professionals, homeless women, Bosnian refugees, actors, college professors and sex workers. Ensler weaves these stories together to explore the humor, wisdom, pain, outrage and power of "the female vagina". There is a monologue by an older woman, who, after being embarrassed by the mechanics of how her vagina worked, never had sex again. There is a piece on a young woman who was saved from being brutalized by men for the rest of her life, by a female lover. There is a comic turn by a woman who is outraged by a visit to the gynecologist's office, and stories of rape in Bosnian refugee camps. The pieces are as diverse and colorful as women from every echelon of society are.
Carol Kane's strength as a comedian and versatility as a character actress have long been applauded. Here she gets to display her goodies using those wacky character voices to great effect. But Ms. Kane is not allowed to play "star". The pieces have been most democratically distributed and each woman has her "shining" moment. Sherri Parker Lee wows the audience with her vocally accurate depictions of every known kind of female orgasm under the sun. And Starla Benford makes her own fireworks when she authoritatively reclaims the ill-requited, disreputable, stigmatic word, "cunt". Yes, the language is real but so is sex, joy and pain. Ms. Ensler has got her finger on "the right spot" and so do these three marvelous interpreters. If you are a woman, it is an evening in the theatre that is not to be missed. And if you're a man, well, hey, maybe you could pick up a few pointers.
Starting on October 10th through the 15th, local Talk Show host, Marty Moss-Coane will replace Ms. Kane.
For tickets call (215) 898-6701 or log on to Annenberg's website at :www.AnnenbergCenter.org
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