Wednesday, February 13, 2002

The Vagina Monologues

Vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina.

If the words make you uncomfortable, "The Vagina Monologues" is probably not for you, though the producers feel that "everyone should see it, whether you have one or not."

Sponsored by the Women's Resources and Research Center, Department of Theatre and Dance and Campus Violence Prevention Program, "The Vagina Monologuse" is part of the V-Day 2002 College Campaign, a worldwide movement to stop violence against women and girls and proclaim Valentine's Day a time to celebrate women and demand the end to abuse.

Written by Eve Ensler, "The Vagina Monologues" is 90 minutes of women on stage, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, reading the experiences of the more than 200 women Ensler interviewed and used as the basis for this show about women's most private of private parts. It is both a celebration of women's sexuality and a condemnation of its violation

Ensler explains, "I talked with hundreds of women. I talked to 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. 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. The program explains that "performers read from the script to remind the audience that these are real women's stories."

The Wyatt Pavillion was filled with laughing and cheering women of all ages, from young college students to elderly women, all clapping enthusiastically. There was a sprinkling of men, but they were definitely in the minority. (Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding, we arrived 30 minutes late, and missed the first 7 segments of the 17 presented.)

Director John Lawton-Haehl has assembled a cast of fourteen remarkable actors: Amy Avina, Sharon Braden, ShaDonna Chambers, Jessica Ehr, Chelsea Kashin, Christine Khoo, Sharon Porter McAllister, Sunny Nordmarken, Jennifer Owens, Rebekah Pipolo, Holly Rash, Linda Renter, Jill Schmitz and Ivanna Wood.

Individual actors are not identified for the specific segments in which they were featured, which is in part too bad because it would be nice to give kudos where they are deserved, but this is such an ensemble show with all performances so strong that perhaps it's for the best.

The play runs the gamut from two very moving pieces about women under Taliban rule and women raped in Bosnia to a simulated orgasmic experience. There is also a very moving description of the author's presence at the birth of her grandchild.

Particularly enjoyable was "My Angry Vagina," describing society's assault on vaginas (tampons, gynecology exams, thong underwear). Likewise "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy" was outstanding, as much for the performance as for the material itself. And as for the depiction of orgasm--you just have to see it. Meg Ryan may have met her match.

But the play is not all fun and games. It makes a powerful statement about subjects such as genital mutilation, rape, and oppression. The material about Taliban rule and burkas is, of course, dated, but it is still important to be able to understand what it must have been like for woman living under Taliban rule.

"The Vagina Monologues" is an empowering play. If any woman came hesitantly to the theatre, I'm certain she left with a whole new appreciation of her body, her femininity, and her power as a woman.

Two more performances of "The Vagina Monologues" remain - February 13 at UC Davis Wyatt Theatre and February 15 at the Varsity Theatre. Both performances begin a 7 p.m.

Stars: 5

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