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Vaginal discoveries at the Big Black Box

Published: 
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Together WI’s production of Eve Ensler’s 1996 theatre hit, The Vagina Monologues, brought a delightful mix of new and experienced talent to the Big Black Box stage over the weekend.

It was not the first time the provocative episodic play had reached a local stage.

The Mermade/Kiskadee production created quite a stir at the hands of seasoned director Mervyn De Goeas and producer, Giselle Langton, back in 2002.

This time around, Wendell Manwarren, directed a cast of 15 including several first-timers, who delivered their lines with what can only be described as a high degree of honesty, and more experienced hands, who displayed a greater awareness of their working space and the pacing of their delivery.

Taromi Lourdes Joseph, for example, is a prolific but relative newcomer to the stage with an already impressive portfolio of film and stage performances.

Her delivery of My Vagina Was My Village left silence in the audience and when she took her seat alongside the rest of the cast, she wiped the tears from her eyes.

Extracted from the narratives of abused Bosnian women during the war in the former republic of Yugoslavia, My Village, is among the more sombre texts originally composed for two voices, but delivered by Lourdes Joseph with a high degree of competence: “My vagina a live wet water village./They invaded it. Butchered it and burned it down./I do not touch now./Do not visit./I live someplace else now. I don’t know where that is.”

Eve Hamel-Smith is another emerging theatrical talent and was tasked with delivery of three narratives, The Wear and Say Lists, co-presented with Bri Celestin and Dominique Friday; the more staid Not-So Happy Fact and the playful A Six-Year- Old Girl Was Asked (“If your vagina got dressed what would it wear?/Red high tops and a Mets cap worn backwards.”)

Woman 3 opens programme Elisha Bartels, Randy Stanley and Alicia Viarruel opened the programme with a lively introduction to the proceedings.

Written as a virtual compilation of vaginal nicknames, “Woman 3” in the script allows for up to five “regionally-specific” names— full use of which was made on the night.

This was sufficient preparation for theatre new-comer businesswoman Candace Chow’s rendition of bitter-sweet Hair—“I realised then that hair is there for a reason—it’s the leaf around the flower, the lawn around the house. You have to love hair in order to love the vagina. You can’t pick the parts you want.”

Tishana Williams, who was last (and memorably) seen in 2017 as lead in Carnival Medea, brought a professional interpretation of The Flood to the BBB stage. “Down there? I haven’t been down there since 1953. No, it had nothing to do with Eisenhower. No, no, it’s a cellar down there. It’s very damp, clammy. You don’t want to go down there. Trust me.

You’d get sick. Suffocating. Very nauseating. The smell of the clamminess and the mildew and everything. Whew! Smells unbearable. Gets in your clothes.”

Drama instructor, Bartels, who played Medea in 2015 returned to the front of the stage for The Vagina Workshop—a spicy review of information on the clitoris and orgasms ostensibly gleaned from a workshop. “My vagina is a shell, a tulip, and a destiny.

I am arriving as I am beginning to leave. My vagina, my vagina, me,” the narration concludes.

They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy—Or So They Tried was not in Ensler’s original script but was later added to include people who were not born with physical female attributes. It has been performed elsewhere on V-Day (always observed in February) by a combination of women and transwomen. The five-member cast delivering this episode included Stanley, Williams, Alyssa Rostant, Ayrid Chandler and Zwena Joseph.

“At five years old,” the narration goes. “I was putting my baby sister’s diapers on. I saw her vagina. I wanted one. I wanted one.”

Then came stage newbie, communication specialist Frances Lakatoo, tasked with interpreting Because He Liked To Look At It.

Lakatoo’s matter-of-fact delivery of some of the play’s funniest but most profound lines worked well.

“This is how I came to love my vagina. It’s embarrassing because it’s not politically correct.

I mean I know it should have happened in a bath with salt grains from the Dead Sea, Enya playing, me loving my woman self,” the narrative begins.

Later on, Lakatoo’s character declares: “In order to survive, I began to pretend there was something else between my legs. I imagined furniture—cozy futons with light cotton comforters, little velvet settees, leopard rugs, or pretty things—silk handkerchiefs, quilted pot holders, or place settings.”

Let’s deal with abuse Rachael George was assigned the role of the women who recalled patterns of sexual abuse from childhood—The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could.

Ensler had pieced this together from the testimonies of hundreds of homeless women— only one of whom was found not to have been abused as a girl or raped as a young woman. Then came Dominique Friday with Reclaiming C**t—an attempt by a Pittsburg woman to “reconceive” the word later in the programme referred to by gender advocate/lecturer Dr Gabrielle Hosein as currently in use as one of the worst forms of insult against both men and women. In fact, Hosein (as guest speaker at the end of the performance) traced the etymology of the word and found positive origins also traceable to the word “cunning.”

Friday’s emphatic presentation led to A Six Year Old Was Asked, followed by Jazz singer Bri Celestin’s rendition of The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy—the narrative of a female sex worker whose clientele comprised mainly women.

Theatre veteran Cecilia Salazar offered I Was There in the Room—a paean to the vagina as the entry point of babies to the world.

“The heart is capable of sacrifice./So is the vagina./The heart is able to forgive and repair./ It can change its shape to let us in./It can expand to let us out./So can the vagina./It can ache for us and stretch for us, die for us and bleed and bleed us into this difficult, wondrous world./I was there in the room./I remember.”

The 2018 performance of The Vagina Monologues itself remains a memorable moment delivered from the Big Black Box stage.

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