If you attended a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” on Valentine’s Day weekend, you probably experienced a few squirmy moments. There are words and descriptions in this play that uncover our emotional scars and ingrained taboos. Remarkably the audience also gets to laugh a lot.
Eve Ensler wrote the play in 1996, based on interviews she did with over 200 women, interviews that focused on sex, relationships, and violence against women.
The performances at The Tin Shed earned standing ovations both nights. As each woman took the stage to share stories of intimate sex, orgasm, gynecological exams, pubic hair, genital mutilation, rape, and the crude sexual slang that is used in reference to women, their commitment to the production was apparent. The monologues were emotional and intense, and most of the actors conveyed the ability to get deeply in to their roles. There were rants, memories, and histories, some sad, some informative. And there was a lot of humor.
Laura Wenzel performed three of the monologues, each one with highly charged elements of anger, pathos and humor. To take the stage three times with the same intensity was a remarkable feat.
Francesca Claverie, who directed the play, also took the part of an elderly woman looking back at an early sexual trauma that plagued her entire life. Wearing a grey wig and speaking with an accent, the old woman’s narrative showed how vulnerable women are and how awful sexual experiences can tarnish a life. The audience laughed as they also cringed at the account–an effect that many of the narratives produced.
When Francesca introduced the play, she said that she’d seen “The Vagina Monologues” in college and all the actresses had been college age. What she loved about this acting company was the variety in their ages, and although she played an old woman and Janice Pulliam took the part of a 6-year-old, the other characters acted their age. One notable performance was that of Sharon Calvert, who talked about a very ordinary man she had known who was in awe of vaginas. She did the part without a script and in the middle she forgot her lines. WIth great aplomb, she explained that she was getting a bit forgetful, pulled out a script, looked at it, and carried on with her amazing act.
All the women handled their parts with skill, but the standout performance was by Erin Blanding – – combining a great script and an excellent actress. Erin took the part of an S&M sex worker who helped women find new ways to enjoy sex. It was a long monologue that included recreating a repertoire of women’s moans during sex. The audience sat in amazement. It was a virtuoso performance.
An amazingly powerful monologue came at the end, with a detailed description of child birth. Bethany Brandt hypnotized the audience with a nuanced and emotionally contained performance, a positive reminder of this most important and life-giving aspect of a woman’s vagina.
Thanks to everyone who helped produce this remarkable play. Most of us need to be reminded of the many light and also dark associations we carry in our complicated brains when it comes to talking about “down there.”