Variegated ‘Monologues’ celebrates femininity

“Vaaa-giiiii-na,” Dae Selcer ’10 said, pronouncing the word as unatractively as possible, acknowledging how ugly that sequence of syllables is. The Vagina Monologues, performed over the weekend in Paresky Auditorium, works to dispel the negative connotations of the ultimate symbol of femininity, the vagina. When Eve Ensler wrote the play in 1996, it was essentially a celebration of the vagina through theatrical expression. Ensler based the monologues on true accounts from interviews she conducted with over 200 women of various ages, and each monologue uses the vagina to examine some aspect of feminine empowerment and sexuality.

In 1998, Ensler developed V-Day, a campaign against global sexual violence. The movement uses performances of The Vagina Monologues to raise money and spread awareness. Each year Ensler adds a new monologue relevant to a current sexual violence issue. Now there are a large number of monologues from which directors can choose, so performances across the globe are rarely exactly alike.

Before the show started, directors Selcer and Talia Mizikovsky ’12 made clear that their performance would fully embrace the shock factor inherent in talking about the vagina. “Pussies unite!” they exclaimed, moving the audience to cheer. The Vagina Monologues takes a taboo subject and turns it into an acceptable, even expected, norm. The “dreaded” word is voiced loud and clear virtually every minute, if not more often.

Because of its episodic nature, The Vagina Monologues is an especially emotional performance. The directors cleverly created smooth transitions between each monologue, but the dramatic shifts in tone and mood were inevitable. I went from laughing out loud to tearing up at somber scenes within a few minutes. The quick changes testified to the actors’ skills at fully engaging their audience.

Without other performers or even an overarching theme to relate to, actors speaking monologues rely solely on their tone of voice and mannerisms to win over their audience. The actors Friday night achieved this difficult task with ease. Within the five to 10 minutes of each piece, the audience was able to get a sense of each character’s personality while respective performers recounted their experiences with just one body part.

Ranging from the triviality of tampons to the brutality of sexual torture, the skits touched on a variety of feminine experiences. Though Ensler’s work aims to end violence towards women, not all of the stories were about painful reminiscences. One of the more memorable monologues was delivered by Leslie Capulong ’12, who portrayed a prostitute who takes great pleasure from compelling women to moan. Aptly titled “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” her performance finished with an enthralling simulation of a “triple orgasm” that left viewers in hysterics.

Julia Bender Stern ’13, who played the “Angry Vagina,” was similarly amusing. Her lament was probably better understood by the female listeners, who could relate to the plight of “wads of fucking cotton” and “cold duck lips.” Despite such female-oriented woes, her impassioned rants provoked laughs from the whole auditorium. Carrie Clark ’10 also deserves praise for her depiction of “The Vagina Workshops.” Her whimpering and enthusiasm transformed what could have been one of the less interesting stories into one of the most amusing.

After the some of the more light-hearted monologues, the play adopted a darker mood and introduced “My Vagina was My Village” with facts about types of sexual assault in other countries. Jamie Pickard ’10 presented a profound rendering of a Bosnian woman sexually and violently abused by soldiers that was one of my favorite pieces of the night. She captured a grim sadness, nostalgia and sense of loss without being overly dramatic or sappy. Like Pickard, Anita Bateman ’13 gave a chilling performance whose illustration of violence against women was particularly relevant to the V-Day movement.

Queer Life Coordinator Justin Adkins’ brief but powerful “Reclaiming Cunt” in which he argued about the beauty of the “c-word,” and Capulong’s story were particularly representative of the overall sentiment of the play. The Vagina Monologues suggested a new way of approaching a word, a concept and a physical thing that tends to be neglected. It forcefully confronted the discomfort many feel regarding the vagina, and instead depicted it as described in the night’s program: “unique, beautiful, fabulous.”

The weekend’s performance of The Vagina Monologues would have made Eve Ensler proud.

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