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LETTERS TO EDITOR
The Vagina Monologues
By Les Gutman
I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about
what we think about vaginas, and even more worried
that we don't think about them. . . . So I decided to
talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina
interviews, which became vagina monologues.... At
first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little
shy. But once they got going, you couldn't stop them.
The second question is easy enough to answer. The show's topic is such that it should immediately resonate for its most obvious audience, those to whom it is most squarely directed: thoroughly self-aware women. By osmosis, it ought to filter through to at least the more absorbent of heterosexual men. But Eve Ensler is far too serious about this project to be satisfied preaching to the converted. If she is to make her mark, her work must speak to a broader audience. Hence, gay men. (Getting through to the men who are at the pointed end of her skewer or, for that matter, the women who also get a dose of her firm but never bludgeoning censure, is, as she notes, work indeed.)
And the word, "work," above, obtains in both senses and quite literally. For The Vagina Monologues is indeed the fruit of Ms. Ensler's labor: over 200 interviews with a vast range of women, focused on the body part that dare not speak its name. It is also central to V-Day, a movement with which she is very closely identified to end violence toward women.
Ensler's instincts are too theatrical for her to just sit in a chair behind a microphone and lecture her audience on this subject for an hour and a half. (Although, for the record, she does in fact sit in a chair, behind a microphone, for an hour and a half). Hence, Mr. Mantello: supervisor, director, second set of eyes and ears, whatever.
Within the scope of her chosen focus, Ensler leaves very few stones unturned. Intermingled with the monologues, which are her portrayals of some of the interviews she found most interesting, are her own thoughts, catalogues of quick answers to some of her funnier questions (e.g., "Q: If your vagina would talk, what would it say?" A: "Slow down."), even a rant or two. A self-proclaimed expert on her subject (and not undeservingly so), she covers the gamut: from the sublime to the ridiculous, banal to trenchant, silly to deadly serious. She is joyful and proud, angry and embarrassed, funny and passionate.
As one might expect, she is at her best when she is original, witty, emotional, piercing or poetic, and less so when she lapses into redundancy, over-extension, attenuation or obviousness. Her audience does not always notice. A shtick about the indignities of pelvic examinations (why must the stirrups be cold metal?, etc.), as an example, contains no new insight, clever or medical, but is greeted with howls of self-recognition.
Ensler's topic, reduced to one word, is "respect," and while she has several heroes who are women (for, to have respect, one must of course first have pride, an outgrowth of self-respect), she has a special pedestal for one who is a man. His name is "Bob"; he is a connoisseur. Naturally enough, she also has her villains: from the inventor of thong underwear to the genital mutilators to the drunk best friend of the father whose young daughter he rapes.
The Monologues are indeed a roller-coaster ride, expressed as much through a humorous survey of the way women moan ("unlocking the vagina's voice") as through the exceptional poignancy of Ensler's experiences with young Bosnian rape camp victims whose eyes cannot even look at a camera. Although some of the monologues start to bog down after a while, the evening is generally well-paced, and its tempo as well as tone varied. In the end, Ensler's notion of respect is combined with wonder to produce awe, at the witnessing of her grandchild's birth: a very personal way of bringing her exhaustive exploration back to square one.
Information on the paperback version of The Vagina Monologues
Editor's Note: Les Gutman and I saw The Vagina Monologues together. While Ensler is a good wordsmith, the most beautifully written and informative work of biology that reads like poetry is Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier. And it's not for women only. It was recommended to me by a man, and read with much admiration by my husband as well as Ms. Ensler, who mentions it, and yours truly. --E.S.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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