THEATRE REVIEW: ‘The Vagina Monologues’ at the Whit a fine picture of what women feel, experience, wantMore Info
The Vagina Monologues
By Eve Ensler
Directed by Monica Bliss
“There is a there down there, and one just don’t go ‘down there’.”
There are 11 monologues in Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” and, with connective pieces in which all the women on stage participate, the one-hour-and-18-minutes-long play leaves its audience with a pretty good picture of the vagina, its history, uses, functions and fictions. There are sequences in which devastating stories are told. There are instances in which humor overwhelms the topic. Memory plays and psychological histories abound. Clinical tales about devastating rituals abound, and bisexual revelations overwhelm the listener. If there is a way to talk about the anatomical mystery, this play takes you up close and into it. Although there is one exception that I recall from my own childhood: I was told by my mother that, if I touched it, the vagina, it would bite my finger off. That’s my personal vagina monologue.
Of course, my mother often threatened to show me hers and to let me see for myself how my birth had damaged and scarred her — an odd duck, my mother. As far as I know, she never made that offer to my younger brother; at least he’s never mentioned it. As a result of that personal childhood trauma, I never ventured forth to sit through this play before but, now that I have, I can finally say that my mother was wrong. All my fingers are intact and my mind has been relieved of the fear of knowing what it’s all about. Five women, and a sixth if you count director Monica Bliss, have blown away those childhood threats and left me with a fine picture of what women feel, what they’ve experienced, what they want. Secrets have been supplanted with imagistic release. And I feel satisfied that I know enough of what it’s all about.
Jess Lillie serves, in part, as the interlocutor for this show in which each woman in turn takes on the topic of the vagina and its mastery of life’s experiences. She speaks eloquently of “The Vagina Workshop,” takes on the vernacular c-word that men are now taught to avoid. She does so with enormous pride and defiance.
Alex Martinez uses her fragile beauty to hold our attention as she discourses on oppressed girls and women abused in ritual manner. Later on she addresses the duality of sexual identity and is riveting in this early speech about transgendered people, a topic much more acceptable now than it was in 1996 when this play was first performed.
Brittany Nicholson assaults us with “Hair” and its importance, takes on juvenile experiences in more than one piece and parodies the little train that could with a story that has added color in more ways than one. She is devastating in her discourse and delightful in her delivery.
Nancy Vale addresses the older woman’s position in a birthing room experience shared by three generations of women. She also talks about the premature orgasm and other topics that both amuse and amaze us. Her singular position in this collective may be the closest we come to the author, Eve Ensler, and her own experiences. Vale’s monologues are spoken with a classy vocal attack and her characters’ histories are unforgettable.
Colleen Jordan represents the strongest of the unnamed characters, the women whose vaginas are front and center in their lives. She presents the variety of moans and other sounds women may use to express their vaginal voyages. She takes on the truths about anger and hostility and lust and mayhem. Her ease with her openness is wonderful and, at the same time, is overwhelming.
If you had a mother like mine, or like any of the women represented on stage at the Whit, this is a play that must be seen and heard — there is no other like it. And director Monica Bliss, whose staging of the play is military, militant and millimeters in width, lets us feel the sharp teeth in that place my mother talked about so long ago.
The Vagina Monologues plays through Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Whitney Center for the Arts on Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For information and tickets, See the Berkshire Edge calendar or contact the theater at www.thewhit.org.