a, Arts & Entertainment, Theatre

The Vagina Monologues: continuing an incomplete dialogue

I sit peacefully in the depths of a blissfully dark, cavernous Leacock 132, waiting for The Vagina Monologues dress rehearsal to begin—until a blood-curdling scream cuts through the silence and I jump from my seat. The shriek gives way to another and then another; they ring together in a cacophonous but joyous incantation; scaling up and down octaves, the sounds morph from screams to whoops to laughter.

It becomes clear that this is a special—not to mention slightly unorthodox—backstage ritual the actresses use to warm-up before the show. Their battle cries are strong, powerful, and harmonious in their own disjointed manner—not unlike the message and spirit of the Vagina Monologues itself.

The commanding passion foreshadows the nature of the production, which captivates the audience from start to finish with its brilliant comedic timing and a mighty and incredibly talented cast. The play has power not only as art and entertainment, but also as a political statement.

The Vagina Monologues is a play written by feminist activist Eve Ensler in 1996. It comprises a series of episodic monologues, each performed by different fictional women—though Ensler originally acted in the play and performed every monologue herself.

Each tells a woman’s story and of her struggles—particularly those relating to her vagina. It’s supposed to, in a sense, destigmatize the taboo subject of female genitalia in order to discuss the deeper issues of feminism. Topics range from pubic hair to tampons to infidelity to sex workers to violence and sexual assault. Director—and third-year Concordia Arts student—Grace Jackson’s personal favourite is a piece called “The Flood” which features a 72-year-old woman who has never had an orgasm before in her life.

However dynamic and potent its message, the play starts off with an important, thought-provoking warning message from the director.

“This play is not complete. It does not portray all women in any way shape or form [….] [Three of the monologues] attempt to encapsulate the experiences of non-white, queer, and trans* women respectively; and in doing so, they do an injustice to these peoples and all women.”

Jackson goes on to highlight these three monologues that the cast and crew found controversial and offensive. Because the play presents itself to represent all women—but clearly cannot and does not do so—the cast and crew note that they want to ensure that all audience members are aware that the play is flawed and that it’s not meant to be taken as gospel, but rather as an exercise in opening up a critical analysis and dialogue.

Actress and U3 Social Work Maddie Lusk, who shines in the opening monologue “Hair”—an unabashed piece about pubic hair—explains how much has changed in the realm of feminism since the play was penned in 1996. She explains how today, feminism is much more inclusive of all intersecting minorities.

“The play is very reminiscent of second-wave feminism: white women, white women’s problems, and the erasure of anyone that isn’t white, straight, and cissexual,” Lusk says. “Feminism is constantly evolving because we are constantly learning how to listen to other people.”

A particularly contentious number called “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could” is a monologue telling the story of a lesbian woman. Although it puts forth a valid and meaningful story, it perpetuates some harmful stereotypes about lesbian women—one of which being that lesbian women can’t enjoy sexual experiences with other women until they have had a negative experience with a man.

One of the cast members and U0 Arts, Erin Strawbridge, explains some of her frustrations with the play by sharing a quote by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that [they] are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Strawbridge goes on to describe the cast and crew’s approach to these issues. It involved replacing rehearsal time with group discussions replete with heated, emotional debates and personal stories as well as suggestions for how to assimilate the play into a modern context.

This production does not solely convey Eve Ensler’s original script. It’s layered and compounded by the experiences and perspective of a new generation of passionate, burgeoning feminists here at McGill.

Whoever you are—regardless of your gender, sexual orientation, racial, ethnic, or religious background; regardless of whether or not you conform to gender binaries or whether or not you are cissexual or trans*—this play might just be the most important production you will see all year.

“Everyone is hurt by patriarchy,” Lusk adds.

The sheer clout of the leading ladies and the poignancy of their intricate, nuanced messages resonate in this McGill masterpiece.

 

The Vagina Monologues will be performed at 8 p.m. from March 21-22 in Leacock 132. Student tickets are $10. 

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