For the dress rehearsal of “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler’s cultish collection of clitoral vignettes, an older couple sat almost alone in the audience. They were watching a Yalie who is presumably their daughter preform a dessert-tray arrangement of pre-coital moans. There was the WASP moan, the Puritan moan, the Yale moan (a few short pants and “f— Harvard”) and the grand finale, the chocolate cake, the Unsuspecting Triple Orgasm moan. And they ate it up.
Immediately before this, at the prompting of another cast member, the conservatively dressed pair shouted “c—” at the onstage panel of women in black outfits and red boas. The producers and director were costumed too, pacing before the show in front of the audience of mostly empty chairs in T-shirts that read “Yale University: Bringing you Bushes of all kinds.”
The whole scene, 11 women talking about their “down there’s,” the specially made T-shirts, the Dar Williams-style pre-show music, and the quietly amused baby boomers in the back is testament to what’s become of “The Monologues.” You remember when vaginas — or the discussion of them — were shocking. It’s not any more, particularly in the company of a Yale crowd.
But though Ensler’s show no longer draws its noteworthy strength from linguistic rebelliousness, from the freedom-granting laundry lists of vaginal pseudonyms, it is no less powerful. When art is successfully appropriated as icon — as it is in this case, where a series of monologues has become the voice of modern feminism — it has a way of keeping up with current events, and in so doing, making its message still resonate.
At universities around the country, Ensler’s production goes up on Valentine’s Day, renamed V-Day as part of “a global movement to stop violence against women and girls,” according to the program. What makes tickets worth buying this year, besides the fact that proceeds are donated to the Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven, is the second monologue, “Under the Burqa,” performed by Ira Dubey ’05. It does not contain a single memorable mention of the show’s keyword or any of its brother phallus references. It is about Afghan women. And for the rest of the show, which is most of it, an audience member finds it difficult to imagine what a vagina might say or wear or why it might be angry.
The resultant introspection (as opposed to the external, genital kind) is by no means a comment on the ability of ensuing actors, though. There is little weakness in the company, which as of Wednesday night had almost all of its lines memorized, no small task for such a speech-heavy show. And without singling out a few performers (though Francesca Cecil ’04, Regan Merkel ’03 and Caroline Johnston ’04 gave the kind of speeches that would make one circle their names on the program) it is best to admire junior Leslie Cozzi’s all-around effective direction and the talent of the group as a whole.
Technically, “The Monologues” is about as challenging a show to put up as a game of tag. The lighting was inconspicuous and coherent, which means good work by designer Olivia Billett ’02 and by the entire technical staff, including the categorically ambiguous but doubtlessly essential “boxmistress” Sarah Seo ’02.