The word “vagina” elicits reactions that run the gamut from squeamishness to embarrassment to disgust.
However, this weekend’s production of the “Vagina Monologues” reclaims the word for women. Through stories, humor, tears and occasional (even multiple) orgasms, the characters proudly imbue the word “vagina” with pleasure, power and, yes, fun.
Clad in stunning red dresses (designed and created by Arun Storrs ’08), Mollie Farber ’06, Camelle Scott ’07, Joe Samel ’07, Molly Fox ’08 and Sara Holdren ’08 read from Eve Ensler’s Obie-award winning play. Culled from numerous interviews with a variety of women, the play consists of uplifting anecdotes of first-time orgasms interspersed with shocking and poignant memories of abuse, war rape and transgendered narrative.
Anyone who thinks that this show is exclusively geared toward audience members of the feminine persuasion: Think again. Even if you don’t menstruate you can still appreciate the humor in Farber’s performance of a pissed-off woman venting about the ways society contrives to clean up, cover up and deodorize one’s vagina.
Through just her voice and posture, Scott perfectly evokes the mannerisms of elderly Jewish lady in a bittersweet monologue about a woman who associates her vagina with a permanently influential teenage memory and “hasn’t gone ‘down there’ since 1953.”
Fox truly shines in her monologue “Vagina Workshop,” where she plays an intelligent, very proper and slightly perfectionist woman discovering her clitoris for the first time. She also performs a rousing and hilarious rendition of “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” delivering a series of different kinds of orgasm moans. Her performance is entirely believable; each moan tops the last, and she never misses a beat between them.
The scope of voices represented extends beyond the Yale campus: V-day includes Pakistani actress Nighat Rizvi. Rizvi’s presence at this V-day rendition adds a unique dimension to the week. As a Pakistani feminist activist, she was responsible for bringing V-day to Pakistan for the first time ever in 2003 amid a storm of controversy and risk.
Rizvi gives a special performance of “Under the Burqa,” a powerful story of a woman slowly going mad within a suffocating life under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. She enfolds the audience with series of verbal snapshots of life “under the burqa.”
V-day is, according to its Web site, “a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.” Performances of “The Vagina Monologues” worldwide are coupled with awareness-raising workshops, revitalizing celebrations and fund raising to generate support and create anti-violence networks.
Marie Ostby ’07, the director of “The Vagina Monologues,” saw Rizvi’s production of the monologues in Pakistan (where Ostby lives) and was “shocked” that Yale skipped the annual tradition last year. She decided to bring the monologues and V-day back to Yale.
Ostby, as an Amy Rossborough Fellow, was able to draw upon financial and logistical support from the Yale Women’s Center to organize this past week of events — ranging from self-defense workshops to panels on sexual violence to chocolate vagina-making (made with vagina molds and melted chocolate). The week culminates with performances of the monologues, and Ostby’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Ensler will be making a trip to Yale to speak to the audience after the Friday performance.
Theatrically, the show was solid, poignant and side-splittingly funny. I would even venture to say that at many times in this performance, I felt that the monologues rivaled or even surpassed the professional performance I saw in Atlanta in 2001.
One caveat: During loud parts, the actors got a little over-eager, and their volume was almost painful to the ears. However, in all fairness, the noise could have been a combination of the acoustics of the smaller space and first-night jitters, and it did not detract significantly from the overall amazing experience.
All the ticket money will go toward two organizations: The Miles Foundation, which works with victims of sexual violence in war, and the Polaris Project, a D.C.-based organization that combats modern-day human slavery and sex trafficking.
I’m definitely willing to shell out $5 on Friday and have another go.