The Frank Collymore Hall was pulsing, vibrating, raving, crying, retaliating, and gushing self-affirmation when the Vagina Monologues came to the stage last Sunday evening, in a celebration of V-day hosted by the National Organization of Women (NOW). The Vagina Monologues is not only a revolutionary, provoking and eye-opening evening of entertainment, it is a bold step towards increasing awareness about violence against women and girls, and securing financial resources for organizations working towards stopping such violence and helping its survivors. V-Day was born in 1998 out of the Monologues, as its creator and performer Eve Ensler heard in her travels hundreds of women?s stories of rape, incest, domestic battery and genital mutilation. She joined with a group of women to found V-day, a global movement to end violence against women. The V in V-Day represents Valentine, Violence, and of course, Vagina; and this word resounded proudly throughout the auditorium as Varia Williams, Kaye Foster, Amanda Cumberbatch and Cecily Spencer-Cross stepped soundlessly into the lives of different women from across the globe, to share the latter?s experiences, or lack thereof, with their vaginas.
At the opening of the show, the cast burst excitedly into the theatre, clapping in time and adding their own voices to a pre-recorded background chant of the title of the presentation. While the song itself lacked melody and unity with the subject, and suspiciously resembled a hastily-composed signature piece, it served to engage the audience and unabashedly introduce the theme of the show: vaginas. From their entry by the main hall doors and through the audience, the scene onstage into which the women of the cast moved helped, with its living room-type furnishings, to create an atmosphere of camaraderie among them, which was conveyed onto the monologues they interpreted, and so represented fellowship among women across the world. The creation of this sense of fellowship was supported by the encouraging words and looks exchanged among the women as they moved from one monologue to the other. It solidified a dual message: that women?s sexual expression and awareness is to be celebrated amongst ourselves, but also that violence against women is a crisis which we all share as women, and as a society. It undermines womanhood, not only the women who experience it directly, and it undermines civilization.
There was no elaborate scenic or sound design, lighting or costuming. The nakedness of all these elements was key in supporting the theme of the vagina: that which is only directly visible through nakedness, but whose existence moves along a social spectrum from being forgotten, to innately felt, to overtly degraded. A subtly brilliant touch to the costume was a scarf - worn by each cast member ? which also served as a prop. It was alternately draped at the shoulder, tied about the head, or worn as a burka, as an uncomplicated mode of transition for the cast members into the different female subjects of the monologues. Manipulation of the scarf by the cast was completely unobtrusive, and contributed to providing some action on a set which would otherwise have been too static at times.
This ability of the cast to abandon self and remain inconspicuous when necessary was transferred to their performance reading of the monologues. They were each able to slip quietly into the roles required to interpret each piece: the intelligent, introspective and refreshingly witty British participant in a vagina workshop whose catharsis came when she was challenged to ?be [her] clitoris?; the self-effacing older woman whose sad detachment from her own vagina was the lasting result of an embarrassing first sexual encounter left undiscussed and unexplained; the young, at first, innocent Southern American girl whose illegal seduction by an older woman was ? sadly, some might say ? her only opportunity to love her ?coochi snorcher?, and therefore herself.
The actors were wonderfully convincing in their ?roles?, and their voice, accent and movement greatly strengthened the believability of the monologues being related. Amanda Cumberbatch was bright, funny, sexy and intelligent in her readings. Kaye Foster at times stopped just short of overplaying certain parts, but was endearing, amusing and greatly credible in her performances. Cecily Spencer-Cross assumed the role of narrator for much of the presentation, and in her one longer piece seemed not to shine as much as her fellow cast members. Some elements of her voice and movement were mildly distracting, although the compelling story was able to stand on its own, and convey to the audience the desolation and desperation which are left in the wake of grossly violent acts against women. First Vice President of NOW Senator Jessica Odle and well-known lawyer/thespian Andrew Pilgrim also gave creditable performances as guest readers, with Pilgrim?s vivid account of the rape and genital mutilation of a woman by her boyfriend evoking gasps and tears from the audience. Attaching a man?s voice to this piece was a wise directorial choice, and enhanced the sobering and bewildering effect of the account.
The audience favourite for the evening, however, was Varia Williams? interpretation of ?The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy?. Williams stepped into the exciting skin of a brash, intelligent, humorous and unapologetic Southern tax lawyer turned sex worker, whose greatest reward in sexually pleasuring women was experiencing their moans. Her monologue climaxed with a demonstration of these various moans, including the ?Trini moan? and the ?Bajan moan?, whose verisimilitude was summarily refreshing and entertaining, and earned her a standing ovation. In coming to each monologue Williams gave the audience a palpable sense of abandonment of self, and created among us an air of expectancy. Hers was a sound and outstanding contribution to an overall brilliant performance by the cast.
The presentation was directed by Thom Cross, part of the team of Cross Caribbean Productions, whose conceptualization stayed true to the writer?s intentions. The script was well-interpreted, and a good use of space kept the stage comfortably balanced, particularly during the choral segments. Cross maintained unity in communication of the concepts being explored, while not compromising the theme of variety and diversity of experience which was a key part of the message. It was indeed a strong Caribbean interpretation and production of a not-so-brilliantly scripted North American creation.
Short note about the author
Marsha Caddle is an economist working in the area of women's economic security and rights. She has an avid interest in the theatre, and is a frequent critic of Caribbean literary and theatrical productions; especially those based on women.