I was a VM virgin until Valentine's Day, for though Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues has been staged locally with bewildering frequency, I'd not seen it until WAIL's (Women Acting in Liberation) production at UNCA's Humanities Lecture Hall.
The first thing to be noticed is the energy and skill of the performers, who were clearly enjoying themselves, and whose enjoyment was at once lovely and infectious. The second thing is the superb a capella singing group All Girl Staff, who performed at a professional level as the warm-up for the play.
But the thing which must be noticed at last with less joy is that The Vagina Monologues is not a good play. It hardly bothers to be a play at all. It's a series of arias or, worse, polemics, which depend on the energy of the actress and a presupposition of uncritical agreement on the part of the audience to succeed. I suppose there is value in being able to scream "cunt" and "pussy" into crowded room, but it's difficult to see what other value the evening affords.
It's curious to me, also, why a theatrical event which in part protests the objectification of the female body should do nothing else but objectify the female body. Ensler would have us believe a woman's response to the world is not only wholly bodily, but finally reducible to the self-delighted frissons of her privates. I was looking at the intelligent and vibrant women who were bringing life to this monstrosity, wondering what in the goddess's name they were seeing in it that I was not. The adjective I would apply to its giggling, pseudo-ballsy smuttiness in any other context would be "boyish."
I brought my confusion up to my playwriting class, and they suggested that the play might be about "reclaiming" the word "vagina" and its kin, compromising their power by repeating them until they no longer got a reaction. Well, OK, but I thought the duty of art was to give power rather than to drain it away.
Finally, I must admit that there's something going on here that I don't get - that there's some spin Ensler has that makes the equation woman=cunt somehow an honorific. The one thing I do get is that it's a crappy piece of writing, and women who want to make points about the perils and qualities of womanhood could make a better choice. . . or rather, from this point on, hardly make a worse one.