Theater Review: The Vagina Monologues

The cast and directing team thank the audience for coming out to their performance. Annually, the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, the Society for the Advancement of Gender Equity and the Student Union Board put on the Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler in 1996. The Vagina Monologues works to empower the voices of women and their silenced experiences. 

Maggie Curry

If you feel uncomfortable, but not threatened, you are learning. 

The first of two nights of “The Vagina Monologues” began Wednesday, Feb. 3, in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union with excited chatter among the audience. It isn’t a workshop, or a place to learn about your own vagina. It was a place to listen to the life-shaping experiences of other women.

The show originated 16 years ago when Eve Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women were first staged. This is the 15th year ISU has performed it. Even if you think you have reached an understanding with your vagina – if you have one – “The Vagina Monologues” can reveal something new or special through the sharing of others’ experiences. 

The play aims to raise awareness and funds for anti-violence groups. Proceeds from the Iowa State production will be donated to ACCESS, Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support, and the V-Day spotlight campaign, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls.

There was a merchandise booth of “I Heart/Respect Vaginas” t-shirts, gluten-free cookie ovaries and chocolate vaginas before the entrance. Just inside the door was a free photobooth to commemorate the evening. Photos can be found on the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center website.

The audience was primarily young, college-aged women, as were the performers. Older women of varying ages and some men also attended.

Three women took the stage to begin the show, speaking in turn.

“I bet you’re worried,” they began. “We were worried. We were worried about our own vaginas.”

The tone was lighthearted, and quickly followed by a joke comparing vaginas to the Bermuda Triangle (“nobody reports back from either”). They described the women who took part in Ensler’s interviews, women who varied in race, sexual orientation, career, age, and experience.

I didn’t count how many times vagina was said in the first few minutes, but it was a high number. The next statement, however, was that nobody wants to say the word “vagina.” An audience member murmured, “That’s true.”

The women went through the many different ways in different languages that people refer to vaginas. They also shared different responses to the question, “What would your vagina say?” The audience laughed appreciatively at “slow down,” “great choice,” “oh-yeah” and “where’s Brian?”

Some monologues are based on one woman’s story, some on multiple. The first monologue was the story of a 72-year-old woman who had never had an orgasm. The older women in the audience laughed openly at her confession, read by Jessica Padilla.

“I hadn’t been ‘down there’ since 1952 – no, it had nothing to do with Eisenhower.”

The audience was also thrilled by detailed accounts of the woman’s dreams featuring Burt Reynolds.

A re-enactment of a vagina workshop, as told by Mia Bashich, had the audience laughing. The woman was having difficulty during the workshop and was torn between reality and a memory of when she was younger at the beach.

“It’s gone, it’s gone,” Bashich moaned. “I’ve lost my clitoris, I shouldn’t have worn it swimming.”

This is an example of the humor found in Ensler’s book. It is a comedic script, which can sometimes be the easiest thing to perform badly. This cast does decent justice to the script, although some readings were rushed or fell flat at points.

The show was not all humor. It also covers difficult topics experienced by real women Ensler interviewed.

Ensler combined interviews with transgender women into one monologue to form a greek chorus, one voice united.

“They beat the girl out of my boy – or so they tried,” cast members Ruth Hines, Denisha Mixon, Rylie Pflughaupt, Jeane Robles, and Tiara Turner said together.

“I now live in the female zone,” Turner read. “But you know how people feel about immigrants.”

The cast members all wore black with accents of red, including lipstick, hair bows, or flowers. It was easy to tell they had formed a type of sisterhood, supporting each other with cat calls, whistles, and laughs from offstage. They were clearly a united group, but each member dressed slightly different. This describes the women who performed and the women interviewed well – the idea of being the same, but unique. It could also apply to vaginas. 

The idea of being a united group but individuals at the same time could also apply to the audience. While several segments received similar reactions from a majority of the audience members – facial expressions of pain and discomfort or group laughs – there were also moments when one or two audience members reacted on their own.

The show also had fun and not-so-fun facts in between each monologue. The fun facts included that the clitoris is the only organ in the human body just for pleasure. Not-so-fun facts included statistics on rape, genital mutilation, and homelessness.

In a monologue entitled “My Vagina Was My Village,” Stephanie Hernandez and Zoryan Rodriguez portrayed a woman before and after a brutal rape.

“I live someplace else now,” they said. “I don’t know where that is.”

The monologue “My Short Skirt” resonated with younger audience members the most. Adamarie Marquez Acevedo, Susana Martinez and Amy Murphy all spoke in turn.

“My short skirt is not your business,” they said. “My short skirt is mine.”

One memorable part of the evening was Maria Alcivar stomping onstage to declare, “My vagina is angry.”

“We need to talk about all this sh*t,” Alcivar said, regarding the previous statistic shared by Mumbi Kasumba on genital mutilation. The rant she delivered also addressed tampons, which left women in the audience bending over in laughter.

“Stop shoving things up me! Stop trying to clean it up! Stop trying to decorate it!” she said.

The monologue also included gynecological exams.

“Why the flashlight?” Alcivar demanded. “Getting all up in there like Nancy Drew.”

Another memorable moment was the monologue performed by Noelle Weber-Strauss about a sex worker who loved to make vaginas happy. She demonstrated numerous moans, including yodeling, the ‘machine-gun moan’ and the ‘I should be studying, it’s quiet hours,’ moan.

The crowd responded the most any time the script was adapted to mention Iowa State, CyRide, or Ames. For the most part, however, the cast’s job is to lend their voices to the women originally interviewed, bringing their own interpretation, emphasis and humor to the script.

The night was all about listening and hearing different women’s voices. The monologues covered hair, discharge, how men influence a woman’s opinion of her vagina, sexual experience, rape, and the experiences of transgender and lesbian women. 

The women’s center is partnering with Tri-Iota and the Writing and Media center to allow Iowa State students to share their own gender experiences in “the Gender Monologues.” More information can be found on the writing center’s website.