March 4, 2008

Vaginas Are Gorges

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“No matter how many times you say it [vagina], it’s never a word you want to say.” According to the women in the introductory scene of The Vagina Monologues we use different names for it, including “pookie” in Weschester, “toit” in New Jersey and of course, “in Ithaca, a gorge.”
The Vagina Monologues was performed Friday, Feb. 29 in Anabel Taylor Hall and Saturday, March 1 in Statler Auditorium. The show, produced by the SAFC and the CWRC (Cornell’s Women’s Resource Center), was directed and organized by Jenna Bromberg ’08 and Rina Wolok ’10. Bromberg, the executive and a student in Cornell’s Hotel School, performed in The Monologues last year. Since she believed in the cause and “had such a blast” the previous year, she decided to take a more prominent role in the production this year.
Wolok was the acting consult and Laura Weiss of the CWRC was also an integral part in the production. The actresses in The Monologues were students from all of Cornell’s different schools, many of whom did not have formal acting experience in their backgrounds (hard to believe after such a high quality performance).
The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler in 1996, is a series of performances that detail various women’s experiences involving their vaginas. The play is based on Ensler’s interviews with 200 women about their sexual experiences, with the hope of exposing the often taboo subject of female sexuality. Shortly after, the V-Day campaign arose, a global movement to recognize and prevent violence against women through productions of The Vagina Monologues. V-Day is recognized in 112 countries and has raised $45 million to open women’s shelters, fund anti-violence programs and spread general awareness. 2008 is the tenth year that Cornell has participated in the V-Day campaign, with the proceeds from the recent performances going to the Advocacy Center in Ithaca (which offers support for victims of physical and sexual abuse).
Cornell’s performance of The Vagina Monologues consisted of 18 monologues. To showcase more people than the production might normally include, most of the “monologues” were actually performed by more than one girl. The inclusion of so many actresses added to the performance’s empowering, original mood. In one monologue, “The Flood,” an elderly woman recounts an experience from her adolescence. Alex Buerkle ‘08 and Reeva Makhijani ‘10, the two actresses who performed the monologue, split up the lines so that one played the woman at her “present” age, while the other told the story as the young girl.
Not only were the auditoriums packed both nights (over 1000 tickets were sold all together), they were packed with both genders. I was impressed that the male audience members accepted the various stabs at their gender nobly, not letting the show’s feminist nature interfere with their overall enjoyment. In the monologue “Hair,” a woman detailed her reluctance to shave her vagina. Her husband, who was cheating on her, excused his behavior claiming she didn’t satisfy him sexually. After her therapist convinced her to shave, the woman concluded sarcastically, “You can’t pick the parts you want. My husband never quit screwing around anyway.”
In another monologue, “Vagina Happy Fact,” a woman informed the audience that not only is the clitoris the “only organ in the body designed only for pleasure,” but it “has twice the number of nerves as in the penis.” She left the audience to ponder “who needs a handgun when you got a semi automatic?”
Not all the monologues were so sarcastic and comical. Some detailed various attacks on women’s sexuality, such as the “Not-So-Happy Fact,” which addressed the phenomenon of female genital mutilation prominent in Africa. In perhaps the most poignant monologue, “My Vagina Was My Village,” two women talked about the horrors they faced as sex slaves in Japan during World War II. Furthermore, every year there is n original “spotlight monologue.” This year’s called attention to the women of New Orleans, referred to as “Katrina Warriors.”
The women were dressed in red and black, reminiscent, of course, of the vagina. But I couldn’t help noticing the Cornell spirit that the red invoked as well. In fact, the Cornell spirit underlay the entire production. The cast did not simply perform The Vagina Monologues as it is written. Instead, they tailored the play so that it was especially enjoyable and relevant to Cornell.
The occasional references to Cornell (such as the idea of girls’ underwear with a built-in tickler resulting in people “coming in Oh! Oh! Olin Library!”) kept the audience excited and captivated from beginning to end, without taking away from the overlying message of The Monologues. Perhaps it was the combination of enthusiasm from both cast and audience that made this performance such an incredible success. Bromberg captured the spirit of the evening with her parting words: “You can’t spell ‘cunt’ without C.U.”