Every successful movement needs followers. Every follower needs a leader. And every leader needs an enemy. This chain of truths partially explains the crowd at Sagicor Auditorium on Friday night, gathered under the rallying cry of The Vagina Monologues, a movement of women led by American playwright Eve Ensler, whose enemy is—to put it bluntly—men.
Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with hating men, or more specifically heterosexual men, who have demonstrated, throughout recorded history, an almost pathological propensity for degrading, demoralizing, demeaning and destroying the women in their societies. The horrors visited upon women by men, right now, around the world, shock the modern liberal sensibility into arrest—forced female circumcision, ritualized gang-rape, community stonings; the list, unfortunately, goes on and on.
But finding a clearly identifiable enemy—in this case, straight men—oversimplifies the problems that women face. It ignores the many positive aspects of heterosexual union, it reduces a complex, multigendered, transgendered spectrum into an artificial superimposed binary, and, most importantly, it abrogates women of their complicity in female oppression. For instance, most young Jamaican women face enormous pressure from their mothers, aunts and other female relatives to get married, despite the unhappy marriages in which most of these older women feel trapped. This cycle perpetuating the status quo will not be broken simply by hating men.
Thus The Vagina Monologues, since its debut in 1996, has rightly come under criticism, from men and women, conservatives and feminists alike, for its somewhat monotonic depiction of men, and their ties to rape, especially in light of one skit, ‘The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could’, which celebrates a 13-year-old girl seduced by an older woman with the aid of alcohol.
That may be its one flaw.
Because The Vagina Monologues is also the most liberating, lively, electrifying time you could have at the theatre this year. It’s smart. It’s funny. Wickedly funny. So funny you will cry. It’s heart-wrenching. Gut-wrenching. So sad you have to laugh. It’s warm. It’s wild. It seduces you. It slaps you in the face. It carries you, as on a moving walkway, inescapably towards its celebration of women, of femininity, of, well… vaginas.
Vaginas are at the center, so to speak, of Eve Ensler’s play, which grew out of her interviews with over two hundred women of all ages, shapes and backgrounds. There’s ‘Hair’, performed competently by Rushae Watson, about a woman whose husband wanted her to shave her, um, you know. There’s ‘The Flood’ (Makeda Solomon, almost persuasive), about a septuagenarian whose gushing sexual excitement as a teenager scarred her for life. There’s ‘The Vagina Workshop’, done by the captivating, talented, attuned Rishille Bellamy-Pelicie, about one New York woman who finds sexual liberation in a group therapy session. Her measured steps through embarrassment, doubt, fear and discovery are, by itself, worth the ticket price.
Always-excellent grand dame Leonie Forbes graces us with ‘Hey Miss Pat’, a monologue Ensler added after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. You’re not supposed to knock a grand dame, but it would have been even better without the script in her hands. The truth is that the show, under the guidance of director Fabian Thomas, is too long, at a sweltering three hours. (Note to Mr Thomas: if we wanted to sit in a hot chamber for three hours of wounded monologuing, we’d have gone to Finance Minister Audley Shaw’s budget presentation.) The less-rehearsed pieces, like ‘Hey Miss Pat’, ‘Crooked Braid’ (Native American stories), and ‘They Beat the Girl out of my Boy, or so They Tried’ (transgender stories), should have been excised.
In the original show, Ensler performed all the monologues herself. Here, the cast is a dozen women, including Noelle Kerr, who finally has a chance to show some acting chops (unlike on Royal Palm Estate, which makes everyone look bad); Nadean Rawlins (Season Rice), engaging and committed as usual; and Hilary Nicholson, appropriately affected and uptight in a rant about tampons, douches, and other invasive paraphernalia.
The Vagina Monologues is now the centerpiece of a global fight against violence towards women, which climaxes each year with V-Day, a celebration of womanhood that usually includes performances of Ensler’s play. Part of the proceeds from Friday’s performance went to the Sisters to Sisters organization. Sadly, that means you’ll have to wait a whole year for another taste of Vagina.