In the same way dialogue has become a verb, I have a feeling vaginalogue is on the verge of a similar liberation; it'll break out from the confines of noundom, enter the exciting world of the action verb and be used everywhere from coffee klatches to 12-step programs.
Theater has the unique potential to move people both vicariously and viscerally, bringing intense emotions and experiences to flesh-and-blood life in front of you. At its best, it is transformative, and Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues is one of the best. Ensler gives voice to the voiceless, venturing into the Bermuda Triangle of the vagina, a region of darkness and mystery "down there" from which nobody reports.
The vagina itself -- herself? -- is even given voice when the 200 women interviewed for the play are asked "If your vagina could talk, what would it say?" Among the answers: "Feed me." "Is that you?" "Start again." "No, over here." "Lick me." "Whoah, Mama!" "Enter at your own risk." "Remember me?" "Bonjour!" "Where's Brian?" "Find me." And the fan favorite, "Slow down."
Yes, there is tremendous humor throughout the evening, and it would take Hippolytan concentration to keep from laughing uproariously at the refreshing comic release Ensler finds in breaking down these taboos. But it is simultaneously a play of remarkable tenderness, insight and significance. Ensler and her cast bring a devastatingly human face to stories of pedophilia, genital mutilation, rape and abuse.
One of the play's most poignant monologues is drawn from an interview with a 72-year-old woman who had never had an orgasm. With her therapist's encouragement, she filled a bath, lit some candles, and "got down with herself." As actress Joan van Ark tells the audience, "She said it took her over an hour, because she was arthritic... When she finally found her clitoris, she said she cried."
Among the play's pleasures are the ample opportunities to applaud for center stage orgasms. Van Ark and Tracey A. Leigh blend artistic prowess with raucous humor in their respective monologues, "Reclaiming Cunt" and "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy." Van Ark breaks new ground in her interpretative spelling of cunt, an ecstatic celebration of all the qualities imbedded in the word and a liberation of the language, giving the lexicon back to the women who inhabit it.
Leigh created an orchestral symphony of moaning, offering a character who would make up for years of "choking" her own moan, holding it back like a sneeze. She offers 20 variations, each one artfully expressing character and context. Among the moans given voice are the elegant moan, the Grace Slick moan, the WASP moan, the mountaintop moan, the doggie moan, the Southern moan, the uninhibited militant bisexual moan, the tortured Zen moan, the machine-gun moan, the diva moan, and the surprise-triple-orgasm moan, in which the 19 preceding moans are reprised in succession. The beauty of Leigh's performance is her ability to raise this essential means of expression to its highest form; it's brimming with artistic integrity and offers a tour de force of her finely tuned interpretative skill.
Ensler intersperses these orgasmic rally cries with the more serious parts of the play that are at the heart of her dedication to stopping violence against women. On the subject of genital mutilations, she points out that 2 million youngsters a year have their clitoris cut or removed altogether. And as preamble to "My Vagina Was My Village," she points out that although the world expressed shock at the 70,000 women raped in Bosnia in 1993, there are 500,000 women raped every year in the United States, and, in theory, we are not at war.
A heartbreaking monologue is "The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could," based on an interview with a homeless woman. The character traces her earliest sexual and pre-sexual experiences, and there is a collective gasp, a wrenching, empathetic "ohhh" from the audience when she tells of being 9 years old and having to go to the emergency room to get her "coochie snorcher" sewn up after impaling herself on the bedpost. By age 13, she had come to see her coochi snorcher as "a very bad place, a place of pain, nastiness, punching, invasion and blood... . I imagine a freeway between my legs, and, girl, I am traveling, going far away from here."
Citing her belief that women's power is "absolutely" rooted in their sexuality, Ensler offers this play as a response to "a patriarchal culture waging war on vaginas." The play inspired an ongoing global V-Day movement -- highlighted by performances at over 300 colleges, including a 1998 Colorado College production -- that raises money and consciousness for local groups that work to stop violence toward women.
This performance -- with locals Beth Flynn, Amy Van Dyken (Olympic gold medal swimmer) and Nina Blackwood rotating in beside New York actresses Leigh and Amy Love -- is like a therapeutic workshop that fosters an openness to introspection and changes the way we see ourselves and those around us. The communal experience of this production is well worth a short trip north, but if you can't make the journey, read the new V-Day Edition of the play.
"We forget the vagina, all of us," Ensler concludes in the play's final monologue. "What else would explain our lack of wonder? Of awe?"