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On the one hand, Meredith College's studio production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues is an enigma. Karyn Raynor, the show's director, gave a detailed description of the show's concept: a unique melding of the script with the subculture of the "Riot Grrrl," a spur of the 90s punk rock scene. The two seem to meld well. But that description is as far as things went. I was bemused to find that there was no other information to be had on Raynor's production. It was clear that the fifteen Meredith students who were onstage were supposed to be Riot Grrrls, but who designed the show, who lit the stage, made the costumes – indeed, even who the actors were – all this information was lacking. I was nonplussed; I have never run into this situation before.
I spoke to the faculty advisor. She told me that these productions are student produced, student directed, and student controlled, and that it had been decided that this data was unnecessary. Undaunted, I asked a student who had been in the show; all I received for my pains was an enigmatic smile. So, as far as the who's who of the show was concerned, my answer was to be Anonymous.
Which leaves one, ultimately, to concentrate on the words emanating from the stage. And this, I began to understand, was the entire idea.
The Vagina Monologues is a distillation of over two hundred interviews the playwright had with women – all kinds of women – from every walk of life and from distant points on the globe. The idea was to get each woman to talk about The Vagina – in general, to be sure, but also, specifically, about hers. The resulting eighteen monologues are as far-reaching, and ultimately personal, as anyone could possibly expect.
There were fifteen women onstage: tall, short, black, white, varied. They knew they had the very best audience they could hope for, about 95% young women. So no matter how startling, how shocking, how deeply personal, how painful, even, that this information could be, this crowd would relate. And, hoo-boy, did they ever. From the very first word, we were hooked.
Raynor produced The Vagina Monologues not as a play but as a readers' theatre. The actors assembled on a simple set with chairs for all in front of a backdrop designed for the Riot Grrrl. On a black background were scrawled angry graffiti lines such as "I will not smile for you;" "riots, not diets;" and "I am not your babe!" Each player carried a script, and read from it. Some actors were better at this than others. Some were able to portray exactly what was written with their words, to really get us to get it, while others were stiff and merely read what was printed on the page. As a result, the performance was mixed. But if ever a show was written for this preselected audience, this one was.
The best readings were those that were collaborations; these were not so much monologues as conversations, where two or three readers combined to relay their message. This interaction added tempo to the reading and made it seem more alive. This combined reading took place on such monologues as "My Revolution Begins in the Body," and "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy."
Racy – that would be one word for it. The 72-year-old woman who had given up on sex after the first encounter, because it was too painful; the beautiful older woman who taught the young girl how to enjoy her sexuality; the Bosnian women who were raped as a matter of course during the war; all of these topics sprang from these interviews. There were those who "didn't have time for it," those who simply never thought about it, and those who could not stop thinking about it.
We learned about all the words used to describe it, what women do to control it, what they do to make it happy. To be sure, the text is not at all one for the squeamish. The Vagina Monologues is a frank and honest discussion of what it is to be a woman, in all her glory, with all her fears, and all her contradictions. So, on the other hand, these words are not Anonymous; they are real, they are powerful, they are concrete. And they are here for your edification.