Though not unfamiliar with the concept of The Vagina Monologues, your correspondent, like many, had never seen more than brief clips from the play before this weekend. Some memories and commentaries of the past, of this culturally explosive phenomena, may lead one to worry that the show will be a feminist screed, and although your correspondent is no enemy to female empowerment, he did not feel like being quilted into taking a hacksaw to his nethers. Glancing back into the female-heavy audience before curtain, I feared the worst.
After a brief introduction to the noble mission of V-Day, the force behind the show, three women (Colette McIntyre, Natalie Lau, and Maya Nair Noonan) came onstage to discuss the mystery of the vagina, and my fears did not flee so much as transform. The words, the concerns, were stirring, but as one girl spoke, the other two would engage in awkward, understated yet burlesque-style pantomimes. The girls picked up steam – their litany of vaginal nicknames set me in stitches of laughter – but I began to worry that this production was simply a diatribe of empowerment wrapped in a hackneyed and lackluster delivery.
Immediately thereafter, my criticism turned to raves. The show is broken into episodes exploring different facets of the vast territory of the vagina, and the next monologue, by Camila Daniels, presented a victim’s guide to surviving rape in the Congo. A narrative that started out airy and sweet, the piece slowly descended into solemnity and then soared into a final array of primal heart-wrenching and heartfelt screams.
The story was intensely personal, breathlessly real. Such was the night and such was the nature of the show. Light, flirtatious humor warmed and welcomed, breaking away reservation and discomfort, and then gave way to the shocking, grotesque, sublime, beautiful, real, and tragic. The revelations were never delivered as coarse, blunt, “gotcha” kinds of surprises. Rather, they were warm whispers of a secret, trusting and believable.
To say enough of these fine women is impossible in such a limited space as this review. However, special praise must be bestowed upon Eliza Lamb for her portrayal of an old, sexless woman talking about her vagina for the first time. Her spinster persona enveloped the young Lamb’s entire being – no movements were wasted in her physical and personal transformation. Credit also goes to Nathalie Lissain for her passionate, though not overwrought, depiction of a victim of marital sexual abuse. The confusion, rage, doubt, begging, tears, and sudden, incredible actions that come with that territory were palpable and terrifying, to say the least. And finally, credits to the penultimate actress, Anushka Jhaveri, whose dominatrix wailed and moaned with such intensity and meaning that one could not help but wonder, perhaps even fantasize, as to where she was channeling this from.
For men and women alike, there was an understanding and an emotional reach to this piece worth experiencing. I left feeling cleansed, free, and at peace. And catharsis of that level is worthy of note. Attending this show was emotionally and financially one of the best decisions I have made all year.
The show made its audience feel and think – about self-doubt and self-exploration and all its associated emotions – and they recognized that. There was a meaningful emotional reach that left audience members, male and female alike, with a strong sense of catharsis. It also left its viewers with free gifts: aside from offering chocolate vagina lollipops and a treasure trove of free condoms and other goodies (provided by organizations such as Take Back the Night), the show’s program was filled with useful facts and resources for those in need of help, or even just some guidance and context after the show. In acknowledgment of the continued sexual abuse that occurs around the world, ticket proceeds went the Center for Anti-Violence Education, and donations went to a charity supporting Congolese women victims of sexual violence.