Thursday, September 12, 2002

The Vagina Monologues

Several hundred women and a handful of men rose to their feet to give a standing ovation at the conclusion of opening night of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues," playing at The Crest Theatre in Sacramento for 7 shows only, through September 22.

This 90 minute cult classic celebration of womanhood has been performed in 40 countries and translated into 35 different languages. There are currently two professional companies touring around the United States.

The show is both a celebration of women's sexuality and a condemnation of its violation. It is a compilation of very empowering stories about women coming to terms with their sexuality. It frees the audience to say "the 'V' word" and brings sheer delight to feminism.

Ensler spoke with hundreds of women--old women, young women, married women, single women, lesbians, college professors, actors, corporate professionals, sex workers, African American women, Hispanic women, Asian American women, Native American women, Caucasian women, Jewish women. "At first, women were reluctant to talk," says Ensler. "They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn't stop them." The resulting script is funny, frank, poignant, and definitely contains "mature" material.

Performers read from index cards to remind the audience that these are real women's stories. Ensler believes the index cards provide a connection between the performers and those women.

This particular production, featuring Glynis Bell and Rhonda Ross is designed to feature a celebrity with ties to the local community joining the other two women, sitting on stage discussing the most intimate details of a woman's body. September 18-20, the third chair is occupied by The Zone's Monica Lowe. September 21-22 The View's Lisa Ling will join Bell and Ross.

There are 17 monologues ranging from interesting bits of information (e.g., there are twice as many nerve endings in a clitoris as in a penis) to the descriptive (a marvelous account of a gynecology exam. "WARM THE DUCK LIPS!") to a list of responses to questions like "if your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?" or "if your vagina could talk, what would it say?"

(Some set pieces from previous versions of the show, such as the dated "Under the Burqua," have been eliminated in this production.)

The actresses are at their best, however, when they tell the stories. Glynis Bell shines when reading "The Flood," an interview with a 72 year old woman who had never seen her vagina, never had an orgasm ("Down there? I haven't been down there since 1953."). Equally strong is her reading of "The Little Coochi Snorcher that Could," the story of a battered woman in a homeless shelter ("My Coochi Snorcher is a very bad place, a place of pain, nastiness, punching, invasion and blood. It's a site for mishaps. It's a bad-luck-zone.")

She is at her very best, however, in "The Women Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy," a piece which very definitely needs to be seen to be appreciated, and which generated the strongest reaction from the audience.

Rhonda Ross is very funny relating the R-rated "My Angry Vagina" which discusses feminine hygiene products, physical exams and underwear. She also reclaims some pejorative terms for female parts, leading the audience in a chant to remove the stigma.

As the guest performer, Monica Lowe was the weakest of the three, and the disparity was unfortunate. Though guest performers are not expected to have the script memorized (a deliberate instruction), the reading of her material was often hesitant, stumbling, and provided a contrast to the stronger actresses. She seemed much less comfortable on the stage.

This is a funny, moving, empowering play. Bring your teen age daughters, bring your elderly mother, bring your lesbian neighbor, and even bring your male friends, who will certainly learn a lot they never knew before. You will leave with a whole new appreciation of your body, your femininity, and your power as a woman.

A portion of the proceeds of this show will to directly to V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day will then pass the contribution on to Sacramento organizations: My Sister's House, a safe haven established for battered Asian and Pacific Islander women and children; WEAVE, established for women escaping a violent environment; and Citrus Heights Women's Center, which opened in 2000 to provide services for victims of domestic violence in the community.

Stars: 4

Remaining performances:
9/19 - 8 p.m. (Monica Lowe)
9/20 - 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. (Monica Lowe)
9/21 - 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Lisa Ling)
9/22 - 2 p.m. (Lisa Ling)

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