Thursday, February 06, 2003

The Vagina Monologues

Imagine Meg Ryan multiplied by 15. That will give you a bit of the sense of 15 women simulating orgasm on the stage of the Varsity Theatre.

The event was Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues," sponsored by the Women's Resources and Research Center, the Department of Theatre and Dance, and Campus Violence Prevention Program as a fund raiser for the upcoming "V-Day" (February 14). Funds raised during the run of this production will beneft the Family Protection Clinic of UCD Law School and the Hmong Women's Heritage Association.

This is the fifth time I've seen The Vagina Monologues in the past 12-15 months and the amazing thing to me is the wide variety in interpretation of the material. The piece, which grew out of interviews that Eve Ensler did with more than 200 women, recount the wide range of feelings that women have regarding that central portion of their anatomy.

Of the piece, 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."

Ensler performs it as a solo. Without Ensler, it has been usually done by three actresses sitting on the stage, each reading from the script. The UCD production, under the direction of John Lawton-Haehi (and assistant Shannon Davis) takes a different approach.

The curtain opens on fifteen women sitting in chairs or on the floor, dressed in shades of black accented by bright red feather boas (visually quite stunning). The material is then performed, sometimes by the group as a whole, each reciting a line or two, sometimes by individuals stepping out of the group to do a solo piece. The program does not list the names of the individual performers, which is a little frustrating for a reviewer.

This year's group consists of: Emily Grande, Jihna Ejan, Stephanie Sanchez, Marie Masson, sunny Nordmarken, Margaret McClellend, Antoinette Kohlmeister, Holly Rash, Keisha Sheffield, Jennifer Hoofard, Jaime Williams, Linda Rentner, Lauren Miller, Laura Gephart and Rebekah Piplo.

It's a more uneven assemblage than the previous cast. There are exceptional performances, and ordinary performances, and some who had difficulty with projection, so that their lines got lost in the vastness of the Varsity Theatre.

But, as the saying goes, "when they were good, they were very, very good."

Among the "very, very good" pieces was "The Flood," the story of a New York Jewish grandmother who is being asked about her "down there" for the first time in her life. The actress who brings this woman to life does so so skillfully that you forget she is a young college student and see, instead, the old woman she is portraying. The old woman is alternately appalled and delighted to be talking about her "down there," and in the end amazed that anybody would even be interested.

A piece I had not seen before, about the naming of vaginas was beautifully acted.

"My Angry Vagina" is very funny piece, given a bravura performance, about the indignities that vaginas are forced to suffer--everything from tampons to the "cold duck lips" of gynecological examinations. ("Why the rubber gloves? Why the flashlight all up there like Nancy Drew working against gravity, why the Nazi steel stirrups, the mean cold duck lips they shove inside you?")

Always a strong moment, "The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could" does not disappoint. A strong, striking actress recounts the story of a woman who grew up hating her vagina and how she learned to love it and herself.

The penultimate moment is a litany of types of orgasms, culminating in one gigantic triple orgasm for 15. The audience laughed and cheered.

The piece takes the audience to the depths of reality, with accounts of the rape of women in Bosnia and genital mutilation and then leads them out again with stories which are funny or just plain touching (such as the interview of a 6 year old girl. The actress playing the 6 year old is delightful).

While this year's offering does not have the impact of last year's, the sold-out house was on its feet cheering at the end and I don't think anybody went home unaffected. The cause is a good one. The play is a delight. And be sure to buy some of those chocolate truffles in the lobby before you go in!

Stars: 4

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