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Vagina Monologues: six years and going strong

By Beck Holden

Section: Arts

March 9, 2007

Last weekend, the sixth annual presentation of The Vagina Monologues kicked off Vagina Week at Brandeis. For those unfamiliar with the show, The Vagina Monologues was written and originally performed by Eve Ensler in the mid-1990s based on interviews she held with over 200 women;

it quickly became a huge hit. It is commonly produced at college campuses as part of the V-Day movement, which aims to raise awareness of and help end violence against women.

The production at Brandeis began with an empty stage with red light in the back, three paintings hanging in the air, foreshadowing a heavy focus on art throughout the production. The show began with the entire cast marching in and having a free-form dance party on stage. Then it was on to the monologues.

This years production featured several strong performances. The first one to really stand out was a performance of “The Flood” by Ashley Sauerhofs 09, based on an interview with an old woman. Sauerhofs old woman physicality, strong comic timing and excellent grasp of the structure of the story made for a very entertaining and powerful piece. She was immediately followed by Yael Mazor 08, who performed The Vagina Workshop. Mazor's decision to perform the role with an English accent seemed strange at first, but it soon became apparent that this was instead a rather brilliant stroke towards highlighting the prudishness of her character, heightening the humor of the several points where she got carried away in what she was saying, stopped, and winced, as if realizing she had just said something way too loud. Mazors range in the piece, from awkwardness and discomfort to absolute amazement, was also quite impressive.

Erica Hughes 10 did an admirable job with one of the most famous episodes of the play, My Angry Vagina. Her spluttering, occasionally Turret's-like outbursts were a joy to watch, and she did a wonderful job embodying and expressing the absurdity of many of the things her vagina is angry about. This comic high of the show was quickly followed by the most tragic, most haunting piece in the play, My Vagina was my Village, based on the stories of Bosnian victims of sexual violence. This monologue is written with an interesting duality, swinging back and forth between the carefree days of youth and the aftermath of the brutal sexual violence visited on the speaker. In this production, the duality was handled by splitting the piece into a two-character dialogue between Abra Lyons-Warren 07 and Kaye Reyes 10 (both of whom turned out very strong performances), one speaking the before parts and one the after, creating an interesting conversational dynamic within the piece. The performance heightened the contract and the sense of transformation from the horrible tragedy discussed in the piece.

Then there is the penultimate monologue, a gem entitled The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy, written about a female dominatrix. The reason it is a gem is that, at the end, the woman (played by Christine Caruso 07) discusses her calling to help women find their moan, then reenacts a series of moans the machine gun moan, the Jewish moan, the Irish-Catholic moan, and ultimately, the surprise-triple-orgasm moan. It is a great role to just let loose, have fun, and feed on the audiences energy and Caruso succeeded wonderfully. On Saturday night, she had to pause for audience applause at least six times for her performance and even succeeded in giving the role a special Brandeis flavor with the addition of the CA moan.

The production was primarily united through the expressive power of art. Starting from the opening dance sequence, the production was never content to limit itself to just the dramatic arts. After some pieces, brief sets of energetic a cappella solos were performed by members of the cast to provide a bridge between pieces. During The Little Coochi-Snorcher that Could, several cast members stayed onstage drawing in art notebooks throughout the monologue, afterwards posting their drawings on the front of the stage. The most powerfully uniting effort on this front, though, was the (initially) blank piece of paper on an easel at the back of the stage, on which every member of the cast painted after saying her piece. This culminated with the final monologue, I Was There in the Room, in which Yael Rooks-Rapport 09 brought the piece to the front of the stage and put finishing touches to the collaborative painting as the rest of the cast slowly filed into the back of the stage, finally revealing it as a visual aid to the closing lines of her speech, the closing lines of the show, with the entire cast standing firmly behind her.

The production also succeeded in encouraging a sense of female solidarity. For instance, in Reclaiming Cunt, the speaker (Vicki Cohen 09, who also gave a fine performance) invited the audience to join in yelling the word cunt at the end of her monologue. The door from the theatre into the green room swung open, revealing a sea of other performers, all yelling cunt out into the audience. The stage was never too crowded (the audience only saw the full company together at the very start and the very end) but performers also never seemed isolated. Both of these issues are serious risks in producing The Vagina Monologues as a large-cast show, so striking a happy balance was one of the keys to the productions success.

In short, the evening offered plenty of comedy, moments of aching tragedy, a number of excellent performances, and a very effective overall presentation of a well-trodden text. There is very little else to say besides well done;

the show received a massive standing ovation Saturday night, and it was well-deserved.

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