18 January 2008

REVIEW: The Vagina Monologues

Since 1996, The Vagina Monologues has stirred up controversy across the country. The play has been banned, students have been suspended for performing monologues from the show, and protests have been waged outside of venues. I’ve seen clips of Eve Ensler’s play before, and I’ve read the script (one of the variations, at least), but never had the pleasure of sitting through a stage production. When I was invited by the City Theater to attend The Vagina Monologues through the Pittsburgh Bloggers this past weekend, I jumped at the opportunity (Special thanks to Cynthia Closkey of My Brilliant Mistakes and Pittsburgh Bloggers for the info).

I was well aware of the sensitive issues that the play brings up, particularly in public, but my experience with The Vagina Monologues didn’t really begin until the night before the show while attending The Lion King. When asked what other productions I would be seeing this month I unashamedly responded that I would be attending The Vagina Monologues, only to be met with head turns, raised eyebrows, and furious blinking from the people around me in the audience. Most directly, a patron responded, “Did you just say… Vagina …Monologues?” with a level of disgust that shocked even me. You would have thought I stood up and shouted a string of profanity rather than the name of a world renowned play.

The revulsion and discomfort of those around me was quite apparent, though I couldn’t understand why. Of all the groups of people in the Pittsburgh area, I like to think that theater goers are some of the more open minded. Not true, it would seem—at least not in this case. The show, now celebrating its 12th year running, is still inspiring controversy even in name alone.

The Vagina Monologues addresses this phenomenon early in the production when one of the actresses states, "No matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say.” The production focuses on the discomfort of both men and women with the topic at hand, and with surprising humor deflates that discomfort from the moment the actresses begin speaking. And contrary to popular belief, the audience was not made up entirely of women. About 10-12 % of the audience was made up of men who laughed just as loudly as the women, and none of whom were attacked openly as many feared.

The Vagina Monologues emphasized the need for women to appreciate their own sexuality, issues with rape, abuse, mutilation, fears, what lasting effects lack of education about your own body can have, and general self consciousness about the female body. By far the monologue about a Bosnian woman who experienced the horrors of a war rape camp was the most moving, and the most thought provoking.

Whether or not The Vagina Monologues is radical is a subject still up for debate. Noted feminist scholars attack the play for being too aggressive toward men, while others claim it isn’t aggressive enough toward society. The problem that Eve Ensler faced (and continues to face, it seems) is even getting people to discuss the topic of female sexuality openly without a pervasive sense of embarrassment or revulsion. Through humor, sentiment, and true stories of over 200 women, The Vagina Monologes opens the door for conversations that may never have occurred outside of the halls of academia. Every movement has to begin somewhere, and Eve Ensler’s play provides the starting line for a marathon of social change.

The City Theater’s Hamburg Studio was the perfect venue for The Vagina Monologues. It was intimate while retaining the quality of a major production. A note about the venue: there are only 111 seats, so get your tickets in advance!

The City Theater’s production of The Vagina Monologues stars Erica Bradshaw, Holli Hamilton, and Laurie Klatscher, and is directed by Tracy Brigden. The production runs until February 17th, and if you call and mention seeing the review on Lyrique Tragedy Reviews and give the secret code “blog,” you’ll get a $5 discount on tickets. At 75 minutes (with no intermission), this production is something every one, male or female, should see.

~Review By Dawn Papuga


Alex Landefeld said...

Bravo. Good Review. Nowhere, no how, should people be afraid of themselves, what they are, who they are, and most of all, what their bodies are. Men, women, big, small, purple, green, hetero, homo or otherwise must be allowed to enjoy themselves and their situation.

Kathy said...

I loved the play too and agree that the Bosnian womens story was particularly heart wrenching.

In addition to writing The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler has also founded an organization called V-Day, dedicated to ending violence against women and girls. V-Day is celebrated on Valentine's Day. More information on V-Day can be found at http://www.vday.org/contents.