Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Location: USM's Vagina Monologues

(Editor's Note: This post will be saucy, and some readers may be offended. However, it's my aim to report events in the Greater Westbrook area as I see them, so here it goes.)

If your idea of a smashing time is listening to women talk about their vaginas for two hours, you should've attended Friday night's edition of the "Vagina Monologues" at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham. If you're like me, though, and find that to be as appealling as listening to men celebrate the ways of their, ahem, appendages (in other words, not very), then you just attend the event to write about it in your fledgling blog. And to be a good husband and accompany your wife as she satisfies her curiousity.

My wife and I walked into 10 Bailey Hall, a lecture hall doubling as a performance space, and we were immediately greeted with a couple surprises: First, I wasn't the only guy there. In fact, I'd say men made up about ten percent of the audience, which was about 9.9% more than I was anticipating.

And the second surprise was that the stuffed toy industry has changed since I was a kid. It's changed a lot. When we sat in our seats, we did what one usually does when one arrives early for a public event: We scouted the make-up of the crowd, browsed the event's program, murmured among ourselves, and stared at the stuffed toy vagina propped up by a blue plastic chair in the front of the room. Yes, you read that correctly: A stuffed animal-like vagina. It was about the size of a coffee table and featured pinks, reds, and a ring of nappy brown "hair" that seemed to be have been made from the same material that would've been used to make up the mane of a stuffed toy lion when I was kid. This should be interesting, I thought.

The event opened with an introduction to the history of the "Vagina Monologues" show (it was started by Eve Ensler in the mid-1990s) and an introduction to the sponsors and the beneficiary of the event (USM's Women's Resource Center and Student Government Association were the former, and the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine was the latter). Then the lights dimmed at 8:05p, and the show began.

Three women attired in red and black--the performance's primary colors--approached the three microphones starkly positioned in the front of the room and proceeded to recite all the various words for vagina, both the clinical and slangy. This went on for a good two minutes (who knew there were so many?), and the crowd's two favorites were definitely the University of Southern Maine's connatations: "Snack Shack" and "Furry Husky." If the stuffed vagina was a soft introduction of how this night would be, this first act was a blunt indicator.

The second act dealt with hair down there. And the third performance featured various answers to two bizarre questions: "If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?" And, "If your vagina could talk, what would it say?" Those are the topics, talk amongst yourselves.

The remainder of the first half of the show featured a story of an old woman who is terrified of orgasms and has nighmares of Burt Reynolds being carried away by her "flood;" a story of a woman who closely examined her vagina for the first time at a vagina workshop (?); an explanation of the clitoris; and a story of a woman who fell in love with a man who studied her vagina for an hour. Yeah, I guess you had to be there.

Before the intermission, the show's narrator read a declaration from Eve Ensler, the creator of the "Vagina Monologues," about the tenth annual V-Day. V-Day, which takes place every Valentine's Day, was started as a way to spotlight and combat violence against women. This year, V-Day is focusing on the women of New Orleans and Ensler's declatration featured a dedication to the "Katrina Warriors." It also referred to New Orleans as "the vagina of America." I'm sorry, but I couldn't refrain from chuckling when that last part was read.

The second half of the show began with a recital of the audience's answers to the aforementioned questions (i.e., what would your vagina wear and say?). But a verbatim reading of a UNICEF report about genital mutilation quickly quieted the crowd's giggles. Then came a string of complaints about vagina-related consumer products.

And once again, giggles from a previous performance instantly subsided when the narrator recited facts about rape in Bosnia, Serbia, and America. Then a performer read a powerful account of a series of rapes in the Balkans.

A performance entitled, "The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could" followed the sobering rape account, and that piece was followed by the narrator telling the audience that the sale of vibrators is illegal in some U.S. states. Then there was a performance about short skirts and how they shouldn't be used as an excuse to take advantage of a woman. That was followed by a breathy performance featuring alliteration and assonance with each of the letters in the word "cunt" that culminated with the cast skipping throughout the lecture hall tossing confetti and swinging feather boas, while the audience joined in the chanting of "cunt." It was classy, really.

A six-year-old girl's answers to the questions (and a couple other vagina-related questions) were read next, and was followed by a story of a female dominatrix which featured the actress giving demonstrations of about a dozen types of orgasmic yells, including the WASP, Irish-Catholic, machine-gun, tortured Zen, and the surprise triple orgasm moan. The crowd was in stitches. It became sober again, though, when the performance closed with a heroic (and vivid) description of the vagina during birth.

The show was an exercise of excess. Sure, it featured some humorous moments and some solemn stories. But I counted the number of times "vagina" was mentioned in the second hour of the show and the total was seventy-two times. That figure doesn't even include the dozens of times the vagina was referred to in a different parlance.

Not even a play about air would feature so many mentions about the stuff you and I, you know, breathe.

- John C.L. Morgan

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