“It’s an eye opening experience for women and men alike,” says actress Laura Rysavy who performed the monologue, “The Woman Who Liked to make Vaginas Happy” in this semester’s production of Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues which showed February 16th and 17th at The Sidney J. Lee Auditorium. The play is based on Ensler’s interviews with over 200 women about topics including rape, ovulation, sex and birth. It has been performed all over the country since its original production in 1996, including numerous times in Bismarck. Ensler, herself, even performed in Bismarck once, declaring us to be a “Vagina Friendly” town, something that comes as quite a shock considering how conservative this area can be.
The Vagina Monologues has won several awards and helped to bring about the founding of V-Day, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to stopping violence towards women and girls everywhere. It has been translated into 45 different languages and also been published in book form by Random House, which is how I came into contact with it.
I first heard of The Vagina Monologues through an enlightened friend last year who recommended it highly saying that it would help me to understand women better. But, I am not afraid to admit that I was too afraid to go and so when I got the opportunity to read the book and then to cover this semester’s production of it I jumped at both.
The theater is already dark when I run in at the last minute. Although the auditorium is only about half full, a fact that may be because it is the second night of showing, I marvel at the wide variety of the men and women in attendance. I was worried I’d walk in to find an audience of only militant feminists but I was very wrong. The variety in the crowd somewhat reflects the variety on stage, the actresses performing come from virtually all age groups and walks of life.
From the start the show draws me in. After reading the book I expected each actress to simply take the stage and read her monologue. There is some of that but there are also a lot of very creative scenes, like one particularly moving one about a transgender woman.
This woman is assigned at birth the gender of male and, even though it feels wrong to her, she tries to live out her life as a man. When she finally does give in and has the operation to switch her sex she is treated horribly by people she encounters. It takes me back to a memory of my previously mentioned enlightened friend talking to me about his sexuality. He said to me, “With all the shit we (the gay community) get from society, do you really think this is something I would choose for myself? It’s who I am.” I wonder at how hard it is for our culture, as in love with the individual as it is, to accept that. That it’s not about trying to be cool; it’s about being yourself.
There are also scenes that only involve one actress but there is more to it than just a woman standing on stage reading into a microphone. There is a level of emotion and involvement that makes me feel like apart of what is going on, like the insightful piece “My short skirt.” It deals with judging women by what they wear something which I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of before. Although never quite to the extent of some of the examples given in the play, I have made room before for thoughts that some of the revealing clothing out there today is more than a little bit slutty. But the performance of “My short skirt” gave me a new perspective. Maybe those cloths don’t have anything to do with sex. I know, it’s a hard concept for us guys to grasp sometimes, but not everything is about trying to get laid.
All in all the play casts away a lot of the dark shadows about the mysteries of womanhood. It closes to a well deserved standing ovation and has been an experience worth repeating. One I would recommend to anyone, man or woman.