Call it a cooter, a twat, a coochi snorcher, or simply just a vagina. The diverse set of alternative names used to describe female genitalia range from funny to downright uncomfortable; the same can be said about the individual feminist stories which make up Eve Ensler’s, “The Vagina Monologues,” performed by nine Keene State College students this past weekend.
Contrary to the name, “The Vagina Monologues” spoke more about female empowerment than about the vaginas themselves. First performed as a one-woman-show in 1996 by the play’s author Eve Ensler, the show now involves several women, each with their own monologue.
The feminist theater piece features a series of monologues put together from interviews conducted with real life women. Questions ranged from, “If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?” to, “If your vagina could talk, what would it say?”
The diversity of content that derived from those interviews has initiated a social and political dialogue on stage that has become so highly regarded that in 2006, The New York Times called the play “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.”
To ease the audience into the content, many of the monologues are laced with humor. KSC senior Kathleen Dougherty was one of several cast members whose witty performance revolved around moaning on stage. In the monologue, “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” Dougherty portrayed a female sex worker, who “found her calling” in giving women pleasure, which included her demonstrating a variety of types of moans.
While Dougherty said it was uncomfortable at first, events like this are too important to let stand in your way. “When we don’t talk about things, they only get more and more and more uncomfortable,” Dougherty said. “I think that having funny and serious and awkward ways of talking about things in a setting like this means that people are going to be talking about it outside of here, and if it’s a conversation starter, then I’m in.”
During the performance, Dougherty hoped to portray someone that both men and women could relate to. “I want people to find something that they really connected with or that they thought was funny,” Dougherty said. “If women are sitting here going, ‘Oh yeah, me too,’ or guys are going, ‘Oh I didn’t know that happens,’ that’s all that I can hope for.”
While most monologues in the play are based on women, the monologue,“They Beat the Girl out of My Boy…Or So They Tried,” is for those who identify as women, but were not born with a vagina. This monologue was incorporated into the play in 2005 and written from the perspective of transgender women.
KSC sophomore and transgender woman Vivian Valengavich portrayed this role, even with no acting experience prior to the performance.
“During events like these, we have a chance to instill into people’s heads that these messages are important. For example, in my monologue, it’s very direct and very heavy in its message. It is a very powerful image for people who may know someone who is transgender or just to show people that this is what a trans person goes through on a day-to-day basis. These are really powerful messages that people try to ignore because they’re unsavory or taboo to speak about and things like this [The Vagina Monologues] heavy-handedly explain it so that it sticks with you,” Valenjavich said.
Making sure that these messages are received by the audience was the job of KSC senior and co-director of the performance Sophia Olsen. Olsen said she was a cast member of the show in past years, and when this year’s director fell through, she was asked to fill the roll.
“I’ve directed a few things here and there throughout my acting career and when I got assigned this, I thought, ‘Alright we know the content is supposed to make people feel uncomfortable,’ so I decided it would be best to figure out a way to ease them into it,” Olsen said.
Olsen is also a member of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), which is where the profits from the show were donated to. As an active member of MVP and a women’s and gender studies major, Olsen said productions like this need to happen and be discussed.
“I am very much into the idea that once you are aware of something, you really can’t step back,” Olsen said. “These are stories that can relate to anyone and if you see something like this [The Vagina Monologues] and then see something similar happen in real life and you don’t step in, that’s crap. I hope that plays like this get people energized and enabled to step forward and do something or say something.”
Olivia Belanger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org