The Vagina Monologues (4 Stage Productions)
Merthyr Uniting Church
February 17 – 18
Imagine, you are a few scenes into a show when the lights go out…. and stay out! What do you do? Well, to the hurrah of its closing night audience, 4 Stage Productions’ “The Vagina Monologues” team regrouped, gave out some free drinks and proceeded, by the light of some strategically placed torches and audience IPhone illumination.
Luckily the well-known work is of the low-tech type. With bare stage apart from the chairs from which its three performers, Eloise Antonie, Andrea O’Halloran and Sandra Harman (as Women 1, 2 and 3) deliver the show’s various monologues, things could easily proceed at audience urging. In fact, given that the blackout occurred during a scene during which audience members are encouraged to consider what vaginas would wear or say, many believed it to be part of the show itself.
“The Vagina Monologues” is a show about words, many powerful, confronting, frank and honest words. Originally written and performed as a one-woman show, the episodic 1996 play is, as its title suggests, a compilation of various monologues of real women from around the world. From older lady distress about ‘down there’ to another’s Burt Reynold’s dreams, 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 orgasm, with many common themes and moments of discomfort, and not just in their intimacy. When, for example, the show moves to share of the ‘My Vagina Was My Village’ monologue compiled from the testimonies of Bosnian women subjected to rape camps, the audience is appropriated affected into silence. But there is humour too in some of its other stories, brought to life whether by melodrama, hyperbolic anger or the abandon of suggestive sex worker moans in ‘The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy’.
Of particular note is Sandra Harman’s share of one of the original show’s most criticised segments, ‘The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could’ in which a woman recalls memories of traumatic sexual experiences in her childhood and a self-described ‘positive healing’ sexual experience in her adolescent years with an older woman. With unwavering accent and adoption of the characteristics of the speaker’s different aged-selves, she gives a commanding performance of the controversial piece.
Certainly, “The Vagina Monologues” is not going to be a show to everyone’s tastes. A work with such self-contained social commentary is always going to contain elements of contention. However, it is the type of show worth at least once encounter as experience of the cultural artefact (there’s barely a country left on the planet where the show hasn’t been performed). To do so from within the intimacy created by 4 Stage Productions’ show is still challenging at times, but comfortingly so.