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Anybody remember unmentionables? A
routine euphemism for those lacy items in the Victorias Secret catalogue, the term
might also be extended to tampons now regularly hawked on TV or, how about
body parts? Well, weve come a long way baby and there are no more unmentionables.
Welcome to The Vagina Monologues.
Eve Enslers little one-woman show also has come a long way since its 1996 premiere, turning into something of a feminist phenomenon. There have been national and international tours, sometimes with Ensler, a gifted actress as well as author, sometimes with visiting celebs. Once you get over some initial embarrassment, youll begin to understand why. The fact that I can write this review at all shows that Ensler has done her work well.
In a scant 90 minutes the show covers everything from hair to the instruments of torture found in the gynecologists office; the horror of genital mutilation in Africa to the wonder of birth. Most of it is hilarious; some of it, like the African statistics and a segment on the rape victims of Bosnia, is terribly sad.
Framed by red, pink and purple velvet draperies that look rather like the folds of a you-know-what, Ensler, black-clad and barefoot, sits on a stool behind a microphone for the entire performance. Shes 47 but looks younger. Her initial aspect is somewhat flat and deadpan, as she explains the genesis of the piece and her research. The questions she asked the more than 200 women she interviewed included What do you call it? and the answers ranged from down there to the highly imaginative cootchy snorch. How would you dress it? drew responses like glasses, a baseball cap, emeralds, a tutu, mink, anything machine washable and Armani. If it could talk, what would it say? drew a range of answers from Get outta here to I want
This is all rather amusing but, once the actual monologues begin, with Ensler taking on the persona of an elderly woman in New Jersey, a proper British lady discovering her own sexuality late in life, a New York sex worker, a young lesbian -- both her delivery and the show come very much alive.
She tells stories, some verbatim, some composites. She treats you to a virtuoso symphony of moans. She makes you squirm and she makes you laugh. She also makes you think. Ensler has used this show to spark awareness of violence against women and to raise money for its victims. If she salts her material with humor, she peppers it with interesting facts. For example: did you know that, in five states in this country, the sale of vibrators is against the law? The same five states permit the legal sale of handguns.
I never heard of anybody committing mass murder with a vibrator, she notes.
The Vagina Monologues tends to be heavily attended by women. Its fascinating to look at the departing audience, all shapes sizes and ethnic groups, all laughing and chattering and sharing their own stories as they spill out into the street. Something has changed for many of them; the unmentionable has been celebrated, made glorious, understood. But, before anything can really change, The Vagina Monologues needs to speak to both sexes. Guys are you listening?
November 5, 2000- Suzanne Weiss