The Vagina Monologues
by Eve Ensler
Directed by Debi Freund
Performed by Little Theatre of Manchester at Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road in Manchester, Conn., through June 24
As a gay man, the appeal of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues eluded me. It was something on which I could not quite put my finger. I had no desire to see it as I figured it just wouldn’t suit my taste. That is, until fate changed my mind. I worked on a new play by Eve Ensler at Hartford Stage. I directed segments from her infamous monologues. I helped bring Eve back to Connecticut to discuss her latest book, I Am an Emotional Creature. Vagina was taking over my life!
My latest run-in with Ensler’s feminist fabulosity occurred at Little Theatre of Manchester’s production of The Vagina Monologues. At 15 years old, you would think the play might be beginning to smell, well, not so fresh. Much to my surprise, on this Summer’s Eve, it was surprisingly splashy. With a cast of ten women stretching themselves to the limit and director Debi Freund deep in her comfort zone, this production throws panty shields aside and goes for the gusto.
Most presentations of The Vagina Monologues these days are conducted as fundraisers around Valentine’s Day, so it is easy to forget that these are plays and not speeches. Ensler’s monologues struck a nerve and sent women into paroxysms of excitement. After years of putting a lid on women’s sexuality, they were spreading the word “vagina.” To say this was revolutionary is an understatement. The dam was burst and the world has since been flooded by women who are now able to talk openly and unashamedly about their “itsy-bitsy.”
It is refreshing that Freund has let the hair grow wild from the play’s theatrical roots. The production has a bold look of red and black, reflected in the effective set and costuming. The lighting and use of chairs re-envisions the piece in a manner reminiscent of the sexed-up revival of Chicago. Most (and best) of all, Freund has encouraged the cast to embrace the outrageousness, sexiness, humor, shame, anger and violence found in the center of The Vagina Monologues.
Each actor embodies several characters, originally performed by Ensler playing only with herself. This keeps the performances from getting too dry over the course of the one hour-and-forty-five minute running time (although, it wouldn’t hurt to split the show in two and give everyone a pee break).
Singling out any particular vagina is an exercise in futility. They are all uniformly marvelous and distinctive. Alysa Auriemma makes a fierce and funny woman who gives her vagina a new name. Susan Bailey, in a rare moment where Ensler herself becomes a character in her own work, delivers a lovely tribute to childbirth. Joan Baker, an octogenarian, opens up and lets loose with a tale of a woman fighting an embarrassing problem.
Kate Brophy winds up the audience not once, but two times. The first, she reclaims the dreaded C-word by leading the audience in a pom-pom waving cheer, climaxing in a split that lands her on her, well, you know. The second, she plays a sex worker reviewing the delights of aural pleasure (spelling intentional). Katya Collazo beautifully delivers the first true monologue of the piece on the prickly issue of hair down there.
Sehee Lee, perhaps the youngest member of the cast, devastates with the tale of Asian women who were trafficked into slavery by the Japanese government. Natalia Liriano mines the heartbreaking poetry of a Bosnian rape victim into an affecting cry to end violence against women. Elizabeth C. Reynolds slays the audience with two stories of women discovering the pleasures they had denied themselves. Sherrie Schallack lands a humorous monologue about a woman who takes a walk on the wild side under her belly button. Rounding out the cast is Janette D. Scott as the tough-talking “Angry Vagina.”