TU’s production brought a range of emotions to the stage over two widely-attended nights.
Over 20 years ago, Eve Ensler first released “The Vagina Monologues,” a play of personal monologues collected from various interviews around the topic of, you guessed it, vaginas. TU once again put on this production last Friday and Saturday, performing the same pieces Ensler did twenty years ago, to great success.
The night started out introducing how Ensler had come to write the pieces, after interviewing 200 women about sex, relationships and violence. Tucked in there was humor, with the performers reading a list of terms women used for their vagina. Often, as they would for the rest of the play, they had to stop to let the audience’s laughter subside.
Then another person came to the stage. Each transition flowed seamlessly, and rarely did the same performer say two pieces. “Hair,” performed by Layla Mortadha, was one woman’s reflection that complying with her husband’s desire for a shaved vagina did nothing to stop him from cheating. The piece immersed the viewer in each scene, from the couples’ counseling to a shaving experience.
“The Wear and Say Lists,” performed by Tori Gellman, Michelle Stephens and Anna Rouw, was collected responses from questions by Ensler: what would your vagina wear and say? Though this question doesn’t make a ton of sense, the responses ranged from serious to funny, a window into the respondent’s soul. This piece emphasized a theme running throughout the play: women are their vaginas, a reductory view that has been criticized through the years.
Diane Jessup read “The Flood,” one of the first melancholy pieces. It was written as an interview, with only the respondent’s answers. In it, an older woman describes how her first kiss had turned into a flood from “down there,” and as such, she’s never gotten further than that. Even with the shame reflected in the piece, Jessup managed to make bits funny.
One of the most heart-wrenching pieces was “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy — or So They Tried.” Written from the perspective of several transwomen, the performers went from early childhood and adulthood struggles, as their gender was denied, to elation when they were finally able to be accepted for who they were. But the piece ended in a heart-wrenching note that left a few crying, as one performer described a boyfriend’s murder for being with her.
The other most hard-hitting piece was “My Vagina was My Village,” read by Darcy Elmore. The piece flipped back and forth between a woman’s vagina before soldiers came, and after they came. Before was a happy time, full of beautiful imagery, while after, it became shuttered off, reeling from rape and torture.
“The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” was one of the funniest pieces, about a former lawyer who transitions to the life of a dominatrix who aimed to make women moan. The killer end came from Kelsey Hancock renditions of various types of moans; the audience was bursting into laughter, almost drowning out her voice. After, she asked, “Was that good for you too?” a nice touch on an already good piece.
Other pieces discussed childbirth, reclaiming the word “cunt” and facts about the clitoris and female genital mutilation. Some celebrated the vagina and women, while others were more sober or angry. The play ended with a reading of an article published anonymously in the Collegian in 2016, which described a student’s sexual assault story.
The performers wore mostly black, with a touch of red, that gave the play a cohesive, somber feel. Each did her part well, reading from a binder, but adding emotion to invest the audience in the part.
“The Vagina Monologues” has come under some criticism for being anti-transgender, focusing too much on the vagina as what a woman is and colonialism, and TU’s performance acknowledged the play came to be 20 years ago. That was definitely notable within some of the pieces. The theme that vaginas were the essential part of a woman was a little too much for me; it felt overly simplistic and ignoring those who fell outside the gender binary. “Because He Liked to Look at It” really emphasized this, as it describes a woman who grows to like her vagina because someone she sleeps with is reverent of hers. He claims looking at her vagina is a way to understand what kind of woman she was; while poetic, this sentiment was a little weird and nonsensical. But overall, the play celebrated women and forced attention on a topic people often ignore out of an alleged politeness, which just leads to misinformation and shame.