Sunday, February 22, 2015

Theatre AUM: "The Vagina Monologues"

Eve Ensler's award-winning and provocative The Vagina Monologues, continually revised and updated since its 1996 Off-Broadway debut, has spawned an annual global movement to raise awareness and to help organizations to end violence against women. With "V-day" productions around the world from February through April each year, Theatre AUM's current production directed by Neil David Seibel is one such event.

Ms. Ensler performed all the monologues in the original presentation, but theatres are encouraged to add as many actresses as they see fit to present these pieces that unflinchingly showcase voices that demand to be heard some twenty years since they first insisted on getting attention to issues that are, unfortunately, still too much with us.

Mr. Seibel has gathered an ensemble of thirteen veteran and neophyte actors to express through words and movement, a melange of subjects that once were taboo or rarely given public notice: the freedom that the text claims expresses both the darkness of brutal treatment of women [rape, genital mutilation, domestic violence] and the joy of self-discovery and self-worth. [Like in ntozake sange's for colored girls..., women, independent of men, often get the strength from one another that they need to survive.]

On a dark multi-leveled platform set, and with a few screen projections, this production focuses attention on the subject matter and the words. "Words" are important for Ms. Ensler, who conducted countless interviews that became the germs of her play. They liberate the speakers whose voices had been ignored or silenced for too long.

While the directness of the language in this play and subject matter may have shocked audiences almost twenty years ago, there were very few moments on opening night that elicited any audience discomfort. And they were fleeting.

Hats off to the ensemble who handled a litany of names and nicknames for body parts, and frank assessment of their tastes and smells, without self-conscious immaturity; and for bravely challenging us to correct many issues that impact women unfairly; and hats off to Theatre AUM for continuing its educational theatre mission.