story by Zoe Whittall /
Nov 30 2000
It’s confessional. It’s about pussy. It’s coming to Toronto. And you might just want to bring your mom to see it.
The Vagina Monologues hits town with starring Canadians Gloria Reuben (from the TV show ER) and Shirley Douglas (Wind At My Back). It’s a surefire hit whose claim to fame is that it’s a funny and touching look at the worried world of the often-unseen and silenced girl bits.
I’m not convinced, however, it’s worthy of all the brouhaha.
According to Eve Ensler, the play’s award-winning creator, if you say the word vagina 20,000 times it loses its stigma. But for the ladies who’ve sat through 20,000 feminist spoken word performances about reclaiming the word “cunt,” The Vagina Monologues might be more of a snooze than a trip to empowerment camp.
I’m as cooch proud as the next girl, but a play about reclaiming and demystifying women’s power through discussion of our anatomical similarities has me a little skeptical. Is it really brave and new for women to write about our bodies as a battleground or a source of pride?
Although described repeatedly as a revolutionary piece, the monologues seem to be everything about ’80s feminism, to which I’m glad to have bid adieu. No more floral vulva prints for me, thanks.
But “brave,” “new” and “subversive” are all words that get tossed around about The Vagina Monologues. The New York Times called it a “bona fide phenomenon” and it is nothing short of that. It turned founder Eve Ensler into a superstar revered by many all over the world for bringing up issues not usually found in mainstream theatre. The adopted mother of Dylan McDermott (from “The Practice”), Ensler defines herself as “gender fluid,” attracted to both men and women.
The Vagina Monologues began as a one woman show written and performed by Ensler in 1996 at a Soho theatre and won an Obie award after a three month run. It’s based on interviews with women from ages six to 75 who divulge their thoughts and feelings about their nether regions. They were written with the intent to wipe out the shame and awkwardness women often feel about their bodies and sexuality.
Ensler uses humour to bring the stories to life; taking a stand-up approach helps ease any reluctant audience member from a fear of didacticism. Some of the pieces speak about the more universal experiences of vagina ownership, like the particular horrors of a gynecological appointment: “Why the scary dress that scratches your tits and crunches when you lie down, so you feel like a wad of paper someone threw away?”
Others are just choppy answers to questions like: “What would your vagina wear?” “What would your vagina say if it could talk?” The answers are sometimes trite and predictable but occasionally insightful. A six-year-old was asked what her vagina would wear and she said, “high top sneakers.”
One monologue talks about a hooker who only works for lesbians and her relationship with the tool of her trade. “I love vaginas. I love women.”
The language is simple and seems almost fearful of making a clear or offending statement. The hooker monologue assumes that working for women is somehow better, more empowering work, than working for men. (Do women pay better for a half and half?) The character was a lawyer who quit her practise to fulfill her mission of creating pleasure for women. “It was my art, as if I had found my calling.”
The play has starred many Hollywood estro-icons, including our very own Alanis Morisette, Marisa Tomei, Calista Flockheart, Brooke Shields and many more. And who doesn’t appreciate a little stardom? I’d pay to listen to Claire Daines or Wynona Ryder talk about their pussies, but that’s cause I’m a starfucking pervert, not cause it will float my political boat.
The middle-aged, middle to upper class crowd has been swelling with love for the monologues. The official website bulletin board is jam packed with women praising the play for allowing them the freedom to even think about their vaginas and the shame and or pleasure they’ve felt about themselves sexually.
It has become something that surprises and shocks a lot of women into realizing some systemic injustices exist and some pretty fucked up things happen to women and their vaginas all the time.
But girls, who’ve been well aware of our vagina power for a while now and who can’t regularly stomach the Oprah show and who are ready for something really new for our performance dollar, may want to skip it.
The Vagina Monologues.
Tue, Dec 5-Jan 7.
The Music Hall.
147 Danforth Ave.