What comes to mind when one hears “The Vagina Monologues?” Generally, rave reviews about how Eve Ensler’s 1996 episodic play is the height of creative feminist expression for women. On Ensler’s website about the monologues, there is a list of positive reviews, from the New York Times, who described her as “the messiah heralding the second wave of feminism” to Variety Magazine, which called the monologues “a work of art and an incisive piece of cultural history.” It was my first time attending the monologues and based on these reviews and the popularity of the show, expectations were set high.
College Players presented “The Vagina Monologues” on March 7th and 8th. Eight girls sat in a row on stage, all with very different hair and outfits, with only the same red lipstick on each of them. Monologues included “The Vagina Workshop,” performed in all its delightful whimsy by senior Sofia Marbach and “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” performed by Maeve Donovan, who received by far, the loudest standing ovation at the end of the show. Freshman Aubreyanna Murray’s portrayal of a 72 year old woman who was so embarrassed to speak during her interview with Eve Ensler was a well-maintained balance of funny and self-conscious. Junior Blaine Dempsey’s succinct narrations kept the transitions between monologues smooth and established the pace of the show. Monica Frangoul’s powerful and gut wrenching performance of “My Vagina was my Village,” regarded the sexual abuse faced by Bosnian women during the war in Yugoslavia.
The audience seemed to love the show, actively playing into the emotions of the performances. Laughter was constant for most of the show, with the scattered moment of silences and the notable conclusion of the “Reclaiming C***” performance ending in loud yelling of the four letter word from the audience. This was to establish that the word is being reclaimed. Overall, the College Players performed well and it was evident a lot of effort went into this production of The Vagina Monologues.
However, the material within the monologues, written originally by Ensler herself, seemed questionable. Why is the vagina being used to singularly represent the experiences of women? This excludes many transgender women from the conversation. One portion of the show had Blaine Dempsey explaining the serious and horrible effects of female genital mutilation followed immediately by Elizabeth House’s performance of “My Angry Vagina” which entailed her yelling about the inconveniences of tampons. The juxtaposition between the two topics felt odd and displaced. This situation was intended to cover the wide variety of problems women face but all it seemed to do was decontextualize a very serious global issue and then go on to complain about “first-world problems.”
I understand that “The Vagina Monologues” exists to create a space for women to express their thoughts and concerns about their body. Ensler was definitely the first of her kind to do this, as there have been adaptations of this performance format that address different types of social issues since its release. However, “The Vagina Monologues” definitely does not represent women, as there is a largely missing racial lense from the experiences of the women performing. If these monologues exist to provide a platform solely to talk about vaginas in a public platform, and some people find the need for this type of expression, then that’s great. But if these monologues were intended to represent the experiences of women as whole, there is a lot to be desired.
College Players did a great job performing the monologues as chosen and put together by first time director, Sean Gonzalez. And it’s really cool that all the proceeds from the production went to The Transwomen of Color Collective. But I walked away from this performance with one question: what was the point? Perhaps this question isn’t directed so much at College Players but more so at Eve Ensler’s writing in the first place. Why has this production been chosen to be performed several times in the last five years at USF when the monologues themselves lack inclusion of so many types of women?
Photo courtesy of Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn