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)

Monday, September 09, 2002

The Secret Garden

The Davis Musical Theatre Company has opened its 18th season with "The Secret Garden," based on the classic tale by Frances Hodgson Burnett, adapted by Marsha Norman, with music by Lucy Simon, and directed, in this production, by DMTC co-founder Steve Isaacson (who is also credited with vocal direction and light design).

"The Secret Garden" tells of Mary Lennox, orphaned in India, where her parents and everyone she knew died in a cholera epidemic. She is taken back to England to live with her only remaining relative, her uncle Archibald Craven, who lives in a lonely mansion on the Yorkshire Moors.

Archibald has been wallowing in deep grief over the loss of his wife (who died during childbirth), and has isolated himself from the world, and especially from his sickly son, Colin, who is bedridden and kept hidden in his room by his physician, Archibald's brother Neville.

The arrival of Mary, initially a spoiled, self-centered child who has been waited on all her life, causes disruption in the carefully ordered life that Archibald has built for himself.

In her loneliness, Mary begins to explore the grounds and finds secret garden, planted by Archibald's wife, Lily, and locked ever since her death. With the help of the gardner, Dickon (brother of the chambermaid, Martha), Mary works to revive the garden, and in so doing she is herself changed into a caring child who ultimately brings life back to the house, to Archibald and to Colin.

This is big show and a difficult show to do well. Within its limited resources, DMTC has done a credible job. There are very strong points in this production.

Heading these is Rodger McDonald, a very strong Archibald. McDonald allows the audience to feel the pain of his grief and his struggle with his feelings for his son. His duet ("Lily's Eyes") with his brother Neville (Jason Stevens) is one of the shows strongest moments.

13 year old Erin Carpenter, in her first DMTC adult show, is a better actress than singer, but her acting is so strong and she brings such earnestness to the role of Mary that one can overlook her vocal inconsistencies.

Pheonix Vaughn is a lovely Lily, whose spirit watches over the house and whose love for Archibald persists despite the separation that death has caused. Their duet, "How Could I Ever Know" was lovely.

A particularly strong performance is turned in by Megan O'Laughlin in the small role of the chambermaid, Martha.

Jeremiah Lowder, as Dickon is likewise a strong characterization, though his "Yorkshire" accent had more of a Dublin sound than Yorkshire (several characters seemed to have similar accent problems).

Kyle Cherry does well in the small role of Colin.

There are 18 different scenes in this show, each of which takes place in a different location--a sitting room, a ballroom, Archibald's library, Colin's room, a room in Paris, etc., and little was done to differentiate among the various scenes, except a piece of furniture here and there on an otherwise bare stage. The lack of funding to provide a more elaborate set could have been handled with a bit more imaginative lighting design. The transformation of the garden from an unkempt, neglected place to a beautiful garden with flowers everywhere was one that had to be imagined, as there was little to no change in the scenery itself.

However, where the scenery is lacking, there is no such lack in the costumes. Jean Henderson has designed some lovely costumes which appropriately convey the feeling of turn of the 20th century English aristocracy.

Likewise, the caliber of singing is, for the most part, quite good. This is a difficult show musically, with few "hum-able tunes," and most of the cast is equal to the task. Isaacson has chosen well for his "Greek chorus" of spirits from the past who keep the narration of the story moving.

While not exactly a "children's show," more mature children should enjoy the story. The production should also develop a bit more spark as the actors settle into the run.

This will be DMTC's last season at the Varsity Theatre, as the company is in the throes of building a new theatre in East Davis. There will be ample opportunity during the coming season for fans of DMTC to show their support and perhaps purchase a memorial to become a permanent part of the company's new home.