Friday, August 16, 2002

Vagina Monologues (Playhouse Square Center)

VAGINA MONOLOGUES poignant, funny, thought provoking

Many plays entertain. Others make important social psychological points. Still others help bring about change. Eve Ensler's 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' does all of those. The most important side-journey for the play has been the establishment of V-Day, a non-profit organization that has raised over five million dollars to be used in stopping violence against women.

The play is a series of first-person vignettes, some hilarious, others heartbreaking, which illuminate women's lives. Ensler said she was inspired to write 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' after being shocked by how a friend described her body in a discussion on menopause. Drawing on more than 200 interviews, Ensler chronicled how women felt about their intimate anatomy and turned these narratives into "poetry for the theater."

"Let's just start with the word 'vagina,'" the first monologue begins. "It sounds like an infection at best, maybe a medical instrument: “Hurry, Nurse, bring me the vagina.” It doesn't matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say. It's a totally ridiculous, completely unsexy word."

As the narration continue the audience quickly realizes that they are laughing but sometimes through tears. Some parts of the script are humorous such as when an actress moans the various types of climaxes...the Aretha Franklin moan, the baby moan, the Southern Woman moan, and the machine gun moan. Other parts are disturbing, such as a Bosnian refugee recounting the horrors of rape in war. "Not since the soldiers put a long thick rifle inside me," the passage states. "So cold, the steel rod canceling my heart. Don't know whether they're going to fire it or shove it through my spinning brain."

Is the material intentionally sexual? Is it meant to titillate and offend for the sake of selling theatre tickets? No, it is an attempt to make the female human body a reality, not something of which to be ashamed. It is meant to talk about the problems of women in a non-secretive way. Does that mean it will not offend some? The narrow minded, those who don’t understand that the words are words which express ideas and physical sensations, will probably walk out. Several did on opening night. Too bad, they probably were the ones that needed to hear the message.

The production concept is simple. There are three women, sitting on stools, dressed in nondescript clothing, reading their lines with the use of note cards. The importance of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES is what is said, not how it is performed. That’s not to say that the cast is not excellent, it is. We just don’t need sets, costumes and special lighting to make the point...the dialogue does it all.

The Cleveland performances features Margot Kidder from August 13th to 18th. Dee Perry of National Public Radio’s Cleveland affiliate WCPN-FM will step in for the remainder of the run. Kidder is probably best known for her Lois Lane role in the 'SUPERMAN' films which starred Christopher Reeve. Kidder uses her husky voice and facial expressions well. She ad libs to late enterers, the men in the audience, and responds humorously to the concept of having sex with Superman, the man of steel! Also appearing in the show are New York actors Starla Benford and Kristen Lee Kelley, the touring production anchors who are both very proficient and obviously emotionally involved in the production.

Capsule judgement: 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' is an important play to see and experience, whether you are a female or male. It’s message is universal. And, by the way, if you want a reverse version of this production watch out for 'MY JOHNSON SPEAKS!' by Dave Goodman, a celebration of maleness, which is supposedly a hysterical male answer to 'THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES' and may soon be presented at a local theatre.