Text by L.R. Lamont
The Vagina Monologues is easy to get wrong. To begin with, it’s a great mass of monologues, and monologues are the director’s bane. They’re impossible to make interesting. Monologues turn actors into talking heads. To attempt one is madness, to do one well takes genius… and most theatre professionals aren’t geniuses. Add to this the fact that the writing shows its age. It was awesome in 1996, but that was 20 years ago. The style and texture of the language just doesn’t hold up that well. And the fact that dozens of lesser writers have copied it doesn’t help either. Add to all that the fact that a lot of the time this text lives in the mouths of privileged (often white middle class undergraduate) people who are more concerned with being emotionally involved with something/anything than reaching beyond themselves and embodying the story(tellers). Credibility can suspect when there’s that much ego involved.
All this to say that Gabrielle Thomas, director of The Vagina Monologues, and her crew knocked it out of the park. The show ran nearly two hours, and I didn’t look at my watch once. I like looking at my watch, the extent to which time almost comes to a standstill during a crap show is mystical. The Monologues honestly flew by. It was brilliant, the sense that you can’t quite get hold of these stories. You get one, you’ve just about processed what you just saw, and boom, you’re onto the next one. They really got this right.
I normally don’t like to see scripts. But in this instance it really worked. It highlighted the idea that these are other people’s stories. It’s a very good thing to remember. These stories come from real live people who live (or lived) out there in the real world and had real experiences that they shared. If that gets lost, it all just word salad. Whether or not it was a conscious choice, it worked.
Okay, everybody will have their favourite bits, but my top three:
Reclaiming Cunt: great voice work here. It sounded fantastic, rich. I could have happily heard it couple more times on the spot. It’s good when a bit leaves you wanting more. That’s what we shoot for.
What Would your Vagina Wear/Say: The pace was perfect. The voices worked beautifully together. The energy, sometimes playful, sometimes odd, sometimes poignant, was spot on. This is what it looks like when a company of actors really comes together.
My Angry Vagina: Wow. Everything came together here. That was an actor fully in the moment. Voice, physicality, intent, energy everything came together in a nice neat package that kicked you in the ass.
Okay, I was going to limit myself to three — who does a “top 4”. It’s either three or five, but this one needs talking about.
My Vagina Was My Village: This one is tricky, but damn it, it rocked. This monologue needs to be a lot of things to work. It needs to be sorrowful, grief-stricken, and terrifying, and chilling, empty, painful, violent, but it can never be self-indulgent or over-heated. Do that and you lose your audience immediately. The acting here was so thoughtful and sensitive that we were right with her through every bit of the horror of it. No ego here. Just an actor being in the moment.
Kenny Stevens says in the comments following the interview reported on the CBC website:
“I’m glad to see some strong young voices carrying forward this tradition but could we still have the theater but by removing some of the bad language?”
The CBC has since closed comments, so sadly, I can’t comment; but I sincerely hope Kenny reads this somehow. Ken, you’re an idiot, and that’s why we can’t leave you in charge of policing language. I’m not going to tell why any of this is so. My comment to you is about shame, not education. You figure it out. That’s your penance. Also, we don’t have theater in Canada. We have theatre.
See the damn show! Honestly! Get your coat on and go now.
The Vagina Monologues’ last performance is Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. at St James Church (1439 St. Catherine St. West). Tickets are $15 at the door. The piece is done as part of V-Day, a global movement and annual international campaign to end violence against women and girls.