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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Monologues’ discuss touchy subject

Published: March 19, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

I have to confess that I was initially less than enthusiastic about attending this year’s production of playwright Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” which was staged last weekend to packed audiences in the Shapiro Campus Center Theater. Not possessing a vagina myself, I thought that I would feel out-of-place and that I simply wasn’t in the right demographic for the play.

Any misgivings I had about attending were dispelled within a few minutes of the show’s start. Though I’m sure I probably approached the experience differently than some, I found it to be a well-done, insightful production that was by turns hilarious and compelling. It’s no surprise that it has played all over the world to critical acclaim since 1996, when Ensler first dramatized interviews she conducted with more than 200 women of all backgrounds about their sexuality and, yes, their vaginas.

This year’s production began primarily with more comedic skits. After an introduction by director Kayla Sotomil ’10 and head coordinator Shana Lebowitz ’10, the show began with “Hair,” in which Renana Gal ’12 performed a monologue about a woman forced by her husband to shave her pubic hair. Like many of the monologues that followed, this one combined a seemingly low-key incident with a greater statement about the way women sometimes are forced or even force themselves to give up agency over their own bodies, a theme which echoed repeatedly in monologues like “My Angry Vagina.”

This was followed by “The Wear and Say List,” which was preoccupied with the question of what a vagina would wear or say. Though on the surface it seemed silly, it did achieve its purpose of opening up the audience to the idea of speaking about the subject matter. After all, it’s not exactly a topic of everyday conversation, as evidenced by the manner in which half the monologues began with phrases along the lines of “Why are you asking me about my down there?”

One of the show’s highlights was “The Flood,” in which Shira Rubenstein ’13 inhabited the role of an old woman recollecting an embarrassing incident with a boyfriend that led her to largely forsake her sex life. It was a deeply affecting performance that reinforced one of the central tenants of the show as a whole, that women should not live in shame of their bodies.

Though some have accused the show of presenting largely negative portrayals of men, “Because He Liked to Look at It,” performed by Ashley Lynette ’13, countered such notions. In this segment, a woman comes to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of her vagina through a perfectly average lover named Bob who insists she acknowledge her natural beauty.

About halfway through the show, the production took a more serious tone, the first indication of which was the coupling of a “Vagina Happy Fact” with a “Not-So-Happy Fact” about female circumcision. It also largely focused on worldwide atrocities. “My Vagina Was My Village” takes the story of a Bosnian refugee who was repeatedly gang raped and juxtaposes her traumatized present self with a past, innocent version of herself.

This was followed by “The Memory of Her Face,” which intermingled the narratives of three women from Iraq, Pakistan and Mexico and emphasized the way the psyches of abused women are often the biggest casualties of violence-ridden societies. These performances were intensely emotional and were something of a shock after the lightheartedness of the earlier presentations.

Each year’s performance features a new spotlight monologue which highlights the production’s cause of choice. This year’s spotlight, entitled “A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery,” depicted the rules one girl in the Congo creates in order to survive the sexual brutality that naturally accompanies sex slavery. Though the performances by all involved were stellar, I found the monologue itself weak and confusing, as it led to little in the way of conclusions.

The final portions of the show returned to a lighter tone, though once again it was still tinged by the dramatic. “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could” depicted one girl’s ascent into womanhood, which included rape by a family friend and concluded with her finding love at age 16 with an older female friend. Though it can be easy to get hung up on the age difference involved, the subject matter was handled delicately and ably by the script, which deftly combined the dramatics evident in the narrative with a certain comic touch, as evidenced by the use of the phrase “coochie snorcher.”

Perhaps the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night was “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” in which Desiree Murphy ’10 portrayed a lawyer-turned-sex-worker who specializes in an all-female clientele. The speaker declares that she prefers her new job because of the moans and proceeds to enumerate and demonstrate all the various moans she’s encountered, with each successive moan somehow managing to be more outrageous than the last.

The show ended on a poignant note with “I Was There in the Room,” in which Jackie Feinberg ’10 delivered a monologue describing the experience of seeing one’s daughter give birth.

The production as a whole was handled incredibly well by all involved, and much credit for this has to go to director Sotomil and head coordinator Lebowitz. It is a credit to them as well as the acting troupe as a whole that the performances within the show came off so effortlessly, even though many of the students who performed didn’t necessarily have any background in the theater. When “The Vagina Monologues” is performed next year, I certainly won’t be as hesitant to see it as I was this year.