Originally published February 10, 2006, in The Daily Reflector| (c) 2006 Cox Newspapers, Inc.
ECU’s sixth-annual production of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is about discovery of self, and others
There, I said it.
Note that nothing bad happened. No fiery bolts from on high. No plague of frogs. No hike in interest rates. It’s just a word, after all.
But as one half of the title of East Carolina University’s annual benefit production of “The Vagina Monologues,” which opens today at Wright Auditorium and runs through Sunday, for many people, it screams.
Sex! Sex! Sex! There’s ladies on stage at ECU talking all about SEX!
Well, yes, this play does talk about that — a little. But mostly, it’s about a whole lot of other things. Important things. Sad things. Happy things. Heart-tugging things. Funny things.
So let me start again:
“It is the name for a body part,” says ECU psychology student Nikki Crews, performing in “VM” for her second year. “But it’s not a body part anymore. It’s become so sexualized.
“People automatically think that (this is) a play about sex or some perversion,” she adds. “It’s not. It’s about all aspects of being a woman.”
Hers is a frustration shared by all those who have championed this production anywhere it has been staged.
“We can sit and watch a film of terrible violence and abuse and that is just fine, but to mention a sacred body part is weird and offensive?,” asks yoga teacher Diane DeGroot, who’s now involved in her fifth production of the play. When she speaks of “VM,” it’s with words like “joy,” “beauty” and “transformation.”
“The vagina is a metaphor for the heart, for love,” she says. “It represents the life force.
“It’s woman. It’s mother. It’s goddess. It’s Mother Earth.”
By the end of the play, notes this year’s director, Georgia Winfree, the audience “will wonder why they did not always see the word as representing our most naturally beautiful human expression.”
SINCE THE FIRST performance of “The Vagina Monologues” by its author, Eve Ensler, in the basement of a New York City café; a decade ago, it’s been a tricky sell to mass audiences.
The trouble? In a word, vagina. Though no one associated with the play likes to dwell on it, try to attract corporate sponsors with that in your title.
Ironic, in light of what Georgia Winfree describes as Ensler’s “desire to remove all possible shame often associated with the word ‘vagina’ and the vagina itself.”
True though that may be, a buddy of mine, a very intelligent guy who’s never been to a production of “VM,” recently joked about it as “that man-hating play.”
“I think that the misconception with people who haven’t seen it is that it’s a bunch of raging feminists,” says Marlo Holsten, Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s community relations director. Holsten, a “VM” performer this year, co-directed the 2005 production.
This “estrogen-filled show,” as she jokingly calls it, is, true to its name, not really a play at all, but a series of monologues originally all performed by Ensler herself. Each is done from a different character’s perspective; Ensler interviewed more than 200 women, she’s said, in order to write the play.
Every monologue does, in fact, have something to do with the vagina — through sex, love, birth, violence, menstruation, mutilation (still common in several developing countries), the variety of names for that part of the female anatomy, and the vagina itself.
“One of the reasons the production is done is to talk about how we feel about certain things,” Holsten says. “All these different issues we’re taught not to talk about, or are afraid to talk about.
“It’s about self-discovery,” she adds.
The stated purpose of the production is to raise awareness of acts of violence and sexual abuse committed against women, worldwide.
So a few segments are, in fact, raw and bruised and painful, dealing with specific traumas their characters have endured.
“This show takes an honest look into the lives of women who have faced violence in the rawest form,” says Georgia Winfree, also one-half of singer-songwriter duo Someone’s Sister, who will perform during the show’s intermission.
The play’s stories “are authentic,” Diane DeGroot says. And in that, they’re universal.
“We have all had some type of emotional or psychic abuse in our lifetime,” she explains.
“The Vagina Monologues” is staged at this time of year for a reason: Feb. 14. V-Day. But not as in Hearts and Candy and Cards Day.
V-Day, so designated by Ensler, is intended as a global observance to raise awareness of violence perpetrated against women and girls. Studies cited at the Family Violence Prevention Fund’s Web site state that at least one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime.
As important as that all is to this and any production of “VM,” it would be yet another misconception to assume that the play is focused entirely on painful emotions.
Some segments are wickedly funny, often outrageous. Some are tender. One is flat sexy.
Just remember that no one can see you blush once the house lights are dimmed.
THIS YEAR, MY sister Michele Rabey is doing the closing monologue, which was Diane DeGroot’s part for four years running. (“It was time to pass the torch a little bit,” DeGroot says.)
The piece, called “I Was in the Room,” is Eve Ensler’s observations on being present for the birth of her grandchild.
Michele had reservations about taking on that granmothery role, though I told her I wouldn’t tell anybody that. Oops.
“She’s beautiful in it,” Marlo Holsten says.
To be sure. My sister is just like that, in every way. She’s my hero.
Last year, when she couldn’t act in the production because she was still in recovery from breast cancer, Michele nonetheless insisted on doing some part toward fund-raising for the Family Violence Program Inc. of Pitt County. So she made homemade chocolates (sinful, they were so good), setting up a table to sell them in the Wright Auditorium lobby.
That, to me, is what this production feels like all over. People, many of whom happen to be women, helping.
Hard to argue with that. So maybe, take a chance. Buy a ticket. See one of the three shows.
Particularly if you’re one of us who doesn’t have one yourself. You know. A vagina.
“A lot of men say, ‘What’s in it for me?'” Diane DeGroot says with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘Maybe you’ll learn something.'”