"There is a there down there, and one just don't go 'down there.'"
There are eleven 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 eighteen minute-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 where 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 the 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.
Colleen Jordan as "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy"; photo: Monica Bliss
Jess Lillie serves, in part, as the interlocutor for this demi-minstrel 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 which 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 1999 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 Whitney Center, 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 milimeters in width, lets us feel the sharp teeth in that place my mother talked about so long ago.
The Vagina Monologues plays through September 16 at The Whitney Center for the Arts on Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For information and tickets contact the theater at www.thewhit.org.