I didn’t know what to expect as I stood outside the doors of the Helen Bader Concert Hall on Thursday, February 27th. As a first time viewer of The Vagina Monologues, my head was spinning. Should I have prepared myself for a night of laughter and hilarity or gritting my teeth for what was to be a detailed, bare-knuckle expedition into the female anatomy? With ticket stub ripped and playbill in hand, I cautiously entered the performance space.
Katy Perry’s “Roar” thumped loudly through the speakers as the playgoers mingled and gossiped before the show. The very first thing that surprised me was the cast of characters in the audience. Patrons young, old, black, and white were scattered throughout the auditorium. For a production slathered with feminist ideology and the plight of the modern woman, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of men I could see. They were perhaps the most important members of the audience that night. Salt-and-pepper-haired fathers sat next to bearded old men and hoodie-clad college guys. After a brief introduction, the lights dimmed and the show began.
The rainbow of diversity in the audience was mirrored in the actors themselves. As the all-female cast walked across the stage, each seemed to represent a different walk of life and background. There were tall women, short women, young twenty-year-old women, middle-aged woman, African-American women, and Asian-American women. There were students and community members. Each was wearing a different variation of a black, red, or pink outfit. The set was simple. A dozen or so black chairs were placed facing the audience. The cast helped comfort the viewers as they experienced the emotional ups and downs of the production, making a point to laugh when a piece was funny and hold hands when a monologue was particularly heart-wrenching, in a performative, yet communal experience.
Narrators Alexis Amenson and Samantha Brown opened the show with a brief introduction on how the stories in the play came together. The Vagina Monologues, originally written by Tony Award-winning playwright, performer, and activist Eve Ensler, is a compilation of over two hundred interviews conducted with women, the subject being. of course, their vaginas. At first, as noted by the narrators, these women were extremely uncomfortable talking about such a taboo topic. But once they started, they simply couldn’t stop; the floodgates were finally opened.
Amenson, a nineteen year-old UWM photography student, has been a fan of The Vagina Monologues ever since she happened upon the play at UW Eau Claire. “I think one of the most powerful pieces is “My Angry Vagina”.” The piece is a standout number in which Dana Thurman passionately rants about the highs and lows of living with a vagina. This included topics like tampons, douches, and gynecologist woes. “I really like the imagery of it , it’s extremely graphic and it’s something that needs to be addressed. She addresses a lot of things that woman think about every day, and talks about stuff we have to endure as women. It was funny and engaging at the same time.”
Actress Sarah Korb recited what was indisputably one of the most hilarious and aggressive stories in “Reclaiming Cunt.” Korb talks about the derogatory connotations of the word ‘cunt’ and turns it into a term of empowerment and celebration. She relishes how the word dribbles off her lips, repeatedly moaning ‘cunt’ until she eventually climaxes. By the end of the skit, Korb was dancing across the stage and inviting the audience to chant and scream the word ‘cunt’ as loud as they could. Shouts of “cuuunnnttt” echoed off the auditorium’s walls. It was an extremely uncomfortable experience, but one that I’ll never forget. What is normally seen as a private and intimate sexual experience, the climax, was turned disturbingly on its head.
Another highlight of The Vagina Monologues was Mia Rudolph-Schulta’s “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy.” Rudolph-Schula’s character is a sex worker, and she absolutely loves everything to do with vaginas, whether it is her vagina or another’s. Amenson was particularly fond of this piece, noting, “I really loved “The Moaner” because it was super blatant and really in your face. There was really no way to be prepared for it.” Ruldoph-Schula’s character talks about her experiences with sex in such an open and conversational tone, it is as if she were talking about her favorite restaurant. Her character’s favorite part of sex is by far… the moan. As she writhes and stretches into sex position after sex position, she explains all the different kinds of moans and moaners. There’s the almost-moan, the elegant moan, the Jewish moan, the Irish-Catholic moan, and even the machine-gun moan. Each moan was met with its own unique sex position to the delight and horror of the audience!
The production does more, however, than incite laughter among its audience. It serves as a way to tear down the wildly apocryphal rumors surrounding vaginas. The play hopes to do away with the stigma surrounding them, insisting that vaginas are not mythical, secret, and offensive artifacts. In essence, the play is a reflection on our patriarchal society. The last piece, a collaborative number entitled “One Billion Rising for Justice,” notes that in order for women to be comfortable with their bodies and their status as equal human beings, there needs to be a fundamental reshaping of our culture’s strict social constructs–in churches, synagogues, schools, and in the media. ”People need to educate themselves,” says Amenson. “You can go see the show, but that’s only a start. You have to be aware of the media; don’t accept what is going on. Men and women should stand up against oppression and not be afraid to speak out.”