Riveting, riotous and real

The Vagina Monologues (Wild Women Productions)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

March 28 – 29

“You’re  worried aren’t you?” the narrator asks as the curtain opens to reveal a giant vagina motif as backdrop to the functional set and as visual confirmation that “The Vagina Monologues” is going to be a show quiet unlike any other. It is a realisation quickly confirmed as the narration continues… “I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas … So I decided to talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina interviews, which became vagina monologues. I talked with over two hundred women. ….. At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them.” And so this incarnation of Eve Eseler’s seminal feminist play begins.

For the uninitiated, the award winning, episodic play is a compilation of various monologues of real women from around the world. It is a collection of their most intimate and heart-felt experiences on issues like sex, love, rape, female genital mutilation, menstruation, masturbation, birth and orgasms. With laughter and compassion, Ensler’s script transports the audience  through a range of female experiences, including those of a 72 year old New Yorker, a vagina workshop participant, a woman who witnesses the birth of her grandchild, a sex worker and a Bosnian survivor of rape. The result not only covers a full range of women’s issues, but it ranges from the riveting to the riotous.

Cast members all have a strong stage presence and each do an excellent job in attempting to keep the subject matter relevant and engaging. Although “The Vagina Monologues” was originally written and performed as a one-woman show, having a variety of performers is not only commonplace, but worthwhile. The actors all show mature and enthusiastic responses to the monologues they perform and have unique voices, which adds interest due to their variance in conviction, perception and attitude. Like the different monologues that make up they show, they each have a different focus mood, pace and energy. The exaggerated variations of moans in the moaning monologue are depicted as a perfect balance between realism and absurdity, while the description of the rape of a Muslim woman in Bosnia is a honest portrayal of this woman’s feelings and anxieties, and, as such, is incredibly powerful, moving many audience members to tears. The show’s narrator, too, is engaging and entertaining in her enthusiastic, yet homely approach.  Although the cast performs with both wit and poignancy, there are moments when their characters appear a little clichéd. However, this is more fault of the text than the performances. For it is the stories that are the star here; the performers are mere vehicles. The show also features some slips in the subtlety of lighting transitions and dialogue lapses.

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Funny as it is, “The Vagina Monologues” is, at times, a difficult show to watch, particularly if you are not comfortable with its frank subject matter and frequent course language. Indeed, social conservative protests have led to cancellations of performances in the US. With its recurring theme of the vagina as a tool of female emancipation and the ultimate embodiment of individuality, the show certainly serves as a celebration of women’s sexuality, strength and humour, without the male-bashing that often comes with works featuring themes of female empowerment. Delve deeper and you may find merit in criticism of its credibility as having a narrow and restrictive view of sexuality. However, politics aside, its structure is such that while you might not like all sections, you will probably enjoy at least some.

Photo c/o – Wild Women Productions

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