Boise State's sixth annual presentation of The Vagina Monologues played to sold-out crowds last week. Directed by Lauren Tweedy, the show successfully interwove humor and pathos to reveal the complexity of women's relationships with their bodies and the contemporary mores defining women.
The show debuted a decade ago in New York City as a one-woman show starring Eve Ensler, the play's author. Later stage productions showcased famous actresses, bringing so much attention to the show and its message of female empowerment that theaters and universities around the world soon began staging it annually.
Current productions now feature a series of monologues ranging in topic from intercourse to self-pleasuring to assault. Most of the monologues are based on Ensler's original interviews with about 200 women but new ones are added each year.
Tweedy served as the assistant director/stage manager for Boise's presentation of The Vagina Monologues in 2002, and she penned several of the monologues used in the 2003 show. She does not, however, believe that her prior experience with the play is her strongest directorial credential. "I feel that it is my passion for the production and everything it stands for that truly qualifies me," she says.
Tweedy's production included more than 30 performers, making it the largest cast in the history of the show in Boise. The women delivered monologues or introductions, sang and played musical instruments. They strutted across the stage in Dominatrix outfits, simple blouses and skirts, and traditional Japanese attire. Some voiced their lines softly, others with force. All of them performed with utter conviction.
Lindsay Erb auditioned for The Vagina Monologues at the urging of a friend, and they both landed parts in a monologue about menstruation titled, "I Was Twelve, My Mother Slapped Me." Erb says participating in the play was "one of those experiences in life that afterwards you feel really thankful for being apart of." She adds that her part was easy because it just required her to "have girl talk with four awesome ladies in really comfy couches."
Guitarist/vocalist Kris Doty beautifully performed a song she wrote in response to the script. "When I read the script," she says, "I just started crying. Not so much for me, it was just so powerful. It brought things that are usually in the dark into the light, so you can address it and move on. It was a very healing script."
According to Tweedy, the stage experience of each woman in the show was quite varied. Given that, Tweedy emphasized each monologue's distinct message by allowing the performers' personalities to shine through. "I am encouraging each actress to incorporate a sense of their own 'flavor' while they are performing," Tweedy says, "so I feel like the production this year will be special because there will be so much 'flavor,' per se."
On opening night, the audience responded enthusiastically to all this "flavor." During the "My Angry Vagina" monologue, for example, the crowd erupted with applause and laughter when actress Elise Robbins declared that if someone would just ask her vagina what it wants, it would say it wants chocolate.
"The Clitoris Choir" also inspired uninhibited hoots and clapping. During this sequence, which unfolded in conjunction with "The Woman Who Liked to Make Vaginas Happy" monologue, five red drapes parted to reveal provocatively dressed women joyously acting out 20 different types of moans.
The Vagina Monologues often relied on humor to explore sensitive issues but did not shy away from tackling issues with unblinking directness. The Boise production included segments on rape, government indifference to the plight of violence against women both in the United States and other countries and the inexplicable shame often attached by society to women's sexuality.
Tweedy concedes that working on this production of The Vagina Monologues compelled her and her cast to deal with subject matter that pushes buttons and triggers intense emotions. Three stand-out performances included Jo-Ann Jones' "The Flood," a monologue in which the mature actress describes how an early romantic encounter closed her off to her own sexuality; Mhari Wilson-Mclaughlin's emotive "Because He Liked to Look at It," in which she describes a positive sexual experience with a man; and Laci White's "A Six Year Old Was Asked," in which the actress convincingly embodies the innocence of a child. Perhaps the most riveting performances were given by Kelli Hochmuht in "The Vagina Workshop" and Marla Seenson in "Comfort Women."
The "Comfort Women" monologue deals with the Japanese government's coercion of women into sexual slavery during wartime periods from 1932 to 1945. To date, the Japanese government refuses to apologize for the atrocities visited upon their own and other countries' females.
"The 'Comfort Women' monologue," Tweedy says, "has opened our eyes by exposing all of us to the many injustices experienced by the Comfort Women during World War II ... I will tell you, lack of knowledge is both fierce and intimidating. Each time we hear a story or disturbing fact that has been strategically left out of our text books, we begin to seep further into the 'truth' and we realize just how much has been hidden from us."
Playwright Ensler originally conceived of The Vagina Monologues as an affirmation of vaginas and all things feminine, but the work has now morphed into a fundraiser for V-Day campaigns. V-Day is a global movement designed to end violence against women and raise funds for groups working towards this goal (the "V" in V-Day references victory, valentine and vagina). Boise's 2006 production of The Vagina Monologues designated the "Comfort Women" monologue as its V-Day Spotlight.
Given The Vagina Monologues' frank handling of sexually and politically charged issues, it should come as little surprise that certain groups and organizations feel obligated to oppose the show. A small group of protesters milled outside the entrance to the performance venue on opening night.
Tweedy wishes the protesters would've come inside and watched the show. "I get a strong feeling that most of them haven't even seen it before," she says. Boise State student and opening night attendee Emily Blake concurs and says, "The protesters obviously never got past the title."
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