Sunday, February 10, 2013

Vagina Monologues

"Who needs a handgun when you got a semiautomatic?" asked WMU student Kailynn Cummings to the Dalton Center Recital Hall's audience during a student production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monolgoues.

Cummings performed Ensler's "Vagina Happy Fact" monologue in the fifth of fifteen installments. Her segment centered on the clitoris having double the nerve concentration of the penis, which elicited applause and light laughter. The performers created an immediate connection with college-aged peers, as cast and audience came together to support the V-Day movement and the YWCA of Kalamazoo. Both aim to end violence and sexual abuse against women and children.

Ensler's monologues emotionally ranged from innocently humorous to socially-imposed shame. She interviewed over 200 women of diverse ages, professions and races to write this play. Her research emphasized similar threads while leaving outlets for individual expression. Although one can't generalize on female sexuality, the ideas of self-discovery and overcoming social stigmas to experience pleasure were powerful.

Lack of narrative flow between monologues was both distracting and a boon to Ensler's greater message. The abrupt transitions were somewhat eased by thematic overlap and audience participation, as the play's shifting gears highlighted the individuality of female sexual identity formation. While certain themes tied the production together, the inorganic transitions were frustrating at times.

All performers wore red or black clothes, but there was no wardrobe unity. The costumes did an excellent job of mirroring recurring themes of sexual discovery, rising above external disapproval, and ensuring one's safety, while stressing actress individuality. The lack of props, glitzy lighting, or overly-imposing sound systems on the stage laid focus on the performers' stories.

WMU's Womyn's Equality student organization produced this play. Director Genae Carter's decision to cast student actresses was the right one. Despite occasional missteps, the acting was well-done and the peer dynamic empowered the message. During the third monologue called "The Flood," the over twenty cast members spoke in quick succession, creating an aural cascading waterfall effect. Ensler's play stressed the individual sexual discovery narrative, but interpersonal dynamics offered a new perspective.

The performances first focused on body discovery and budding sexuality, but gradually probed issues of sexual assault and denied personhood. Carter ended the performance by thanking the audience for their donations to local women's shelters, urging the end of victim blaming within rape culture, and encouraging all to dance on Valentine's Day in solidarity with victims.


  1. The two things that I hard trouble with when reading your post was its "lack of narrative flow between" paragraphs and that I wasn't able to tell if you were critiquing "The Vagina Monologues" (TVMs) or the performance. Also since you don't mention Valentine's Day before it, the term "V-Day" in the 2nd paragraph seems to refer to "Vagina Day" as that was the only capitalized V-word before it. Is this correct?
    But I do like how your paragraphs mimic your view that TVMs was disjointed. That is something I've yet to be able to implement in my reviews and posts. You may want to mention your take on TVMs sooner to make it clear that's what you're mimicking.
    As for what you were reviewing, I also do recognize the tension between in the individual performer and TVMs group story. So I can see why you focused on both, but I don't know how you felt about the performance because of that. (I got a sense of generally positive emotions.)

    Don't get me wrong, your post was very effective at explaining and describing both the performance and TVMs. I found each paragraph to clearly follow and support the topic sentence and in a clear way. Maybe it's just that your review is too good. It's such an good mirror that what what I think I liked and disliked about your review seems to be what you liked and disliked about the performance. So, bravo!

  2. Thank you very much for your feedback. In terms of my organization/flow for this blog post, I tried to mimic the rough transitions between the play's individual monologues while reiterating common themes that tied the production together. I understand how it could feel abrupt, but I was going for the "structure mimic" effect we saw in the NYT review of Jodie Foster's Golden Globes lifetime achievement award. On V-Day: the show's program said ticket sales were donated to support the V-Day movement, but the director referred to it as V-Day verbally when she introduced the play. You're right, I should have done some outside research on V-Day (which I just did 30 seconds ago), and according to, the "v" stands for "Victory, Valentine, and Vagina." The concerns you raised are certainly valid because no review should be "too good" that it causes reader confusion.

    Victory, Valentine, and Vagina,