• Aysegul Yayla

The Vagina Monologues


Review by Aysegul Yayla

Photographs by Boaz Manger

26, 27 & 28 February 2013 – 20.30

The Koninklijke Schouwburg – Het Paradijs

The Hague

Cast: Joanna Klever, Odette Vriese, Marlene Hahnenwald, Alinta Geling, Maxime Verbeij, Larissa van der Laan, Rosalind Lowe, Laura Brouwer, Nadine Froughi, Sofia Lotto Persio, Imane Maghrani, Jori Nanninga, Anya Marcelis

Directors: Anya Marcelis and Sofia Lotto Persio

When I found out about Leiden University College was performing Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” in the Hague, I said, “I can finally see the play!” I was interested in the Monologues for years and since I could not find any production of it, I had printed the script and had read it. My initial reactions were surprise, joy, then sadness and disturbance at the same time and I had reached a level of consciousness at the end. This was the pattern the script follows. Visual experience I had at the Hague-based English theater production house STET was much more different though. Eleven monologues were staged by young college women each of whom was passionate about her role. That was the most important aspect of this play. They were an amateur group having produced the play only in two months. The credits especially go to Anya Marcelis and Sofia Lotto Persio, who are the organizers and the directors of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Let’s look at how the Monologues came into existence. Eve Ensler fictionalized the experiences of women she had interviewed before 1998. She had talked to more than two hundred women from a variety of countries and different backgrounds about their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. She was so much shaken by the stories she listened to, she decided to write out some of them to raise consciousness about violence against women. Plus, the United Nations’ report on the physical or sexual harassment women were subject to during their lives was another triggering factor for her focus on the subject. Therefore she came up with the “V-Day” movement in 1998 to promote female emancipation. She took vagina as the crucial means to express individuality. Ensler accordingly declares that, “Women's empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality” (from the interview by Women.com, 2000). However, instead of celebrating the vagina and femininity, the point of V-Day is to stop violence against women. Since 1998, the play is being staged internationally and many colleges and universities pick the script to produce yearly to educate new students about gender and sexuality. It has become a matter of education instead of performing fine arts. I am not downgrading the quality of the content of the play but I just want to emphasize the fact that yearly production of the same play by different students restrict the likelihood of improving the creative adaptation of the script. There is only one fine example that comes to mind about pushing the limits of creativity: transgendered women performed “The Vagina Monologues” in Maryland in 2004, including the experiences of transgendered individuals to the monologues. Hence what I am trying to bring about is that the performance at the STET was an example of mainstream production of the play. If this was what the directors aimed at, they were successful in doing so. But if they wanted to add a sparkle of originality, coming up with the idea of adding the college student orgasm version to the monologue of the sex worker experience was, although amusing, definitely insufficient.

Every single one of the eleven monologues is concerned with a particular issue of women’s experiences such as sex, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm or assorted names for the vagina. Leiden University College cast adapted four new monologues to their performance. Here are the depictions of each actress and the associated monologue they gave life to:

1. (New) You’ve Got to Love Hair by Marlene Hahnenwald

2. (New) When I Was Your Age by Alinta Geling

3. (New) My Vagina Is a Flower by Rosalind Lowe

4. Because He Liked to Look At It by Larissa van der Laan

5. (New) Congo Experience by Maxime Verbeij

6. My Angry Vagina by Nadine Froughi

7. My Vagina Was My Village by Imane Maghrani

8. Reclaiming Cunt by Laura Brouwer

9. The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could by Sofia Lotto Persio

10. The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy by Jori Nanninga

11. I Was There In The Room by Anya Marcelis

It has nothing to do with this particular performance but I have one more criticism to make on the rhetoric of the play. Ensler tries to give the women a voice through their vaginas, alright, but she positions the men as enemies against female empowerment. Her anti-man perspective is in the form of generalization. On the contrary, not every man approach to the issue of violence against women the same given the evidence that gender equality is almost established in countries such as the Netherlands. Yet men are needed for women to experience an equally shared authority in their relationship based on tolerance, understanding and appreciation of each other’s talents. One needs to be critical before taking Ensler’s stereotypically oppressive male figures for granted. Probably the only positive illustration of masculinity was the fictionalized plain character of Bob in “Because He Liked to Look At It” monologue. The woman narrates her story of getting to know her own vagina – enlightenment in a sense – through Bob’s interest in looking and examining her vagina. He functions again to initiate this woman’s empowerment just like other negative descriptions of men. His task is done and there is no relationship other than sexual intercourse. How healthy is this perspective when men are pushed to the margins and isolated? I think caring and loving men are underestimated in the play. It is reasonable to exclude the oppressive figures by not giving them particular names and characters and just relating to the experience of the women but Bob should not have been left alone. Ensler’s attitude is too revolutionary for the society to grasp the idea and apply it to their lives. The women in the audience still identify themselves mainly as heterosexual women and thus they are always in contact with men. Raising consciousness about female sexuality and making it a tool of empowerment are hopeful activities yet there should be workshops or organizations to make men’s mentality more advanced on this issue of violence against women.

#vaginamonologues #eveensler #play #stet #leiden

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