I hate vaginas. I always have and always will. They’re dank and cavernous and horrible, and I feel bad for every man or woman who has to venture down there without a bulwark between him and that juicy, pungent vag-spunk. So, maybe it wasn’t the best idea for me to go The Vagina Monologues, directed by Sarah Outhwaite.
Last Friday, having reluctantly promised a friend to attend her performance, I sat down in the back row of the Frist Theatre with Justine Chaney, primed for heckling and power lesbians. As a Vagina Monologues virgin and self-professed vagina-hater, I felt a vaguely dull ache in my abdomen as Francesca Butler and Nienke Boer walked out onto the stage, straight hair, black slacks, and high pumps all in place. Cue gesticulation, melodrama, and the over-enunciation of one repeated word: VUH-JAI-NUH. VUH. JAAAAAAAAAAI. NUH. Justine held my hair back as spicy tuna spewed forth from deep within my churning stomach. I need not elaborate on the appropriateness of the multitude of lines throughout the monologues referencing the fishy smell (and taste) of female genitalia. How novel, guys.
The first piece, Kaitlyn Hamilton’s rendition of “Hair,” was probably not the best way to entice me into staying longer. (That my friend’s monologue was the second to last performance of the night was a fact I lamented loudly when handed the program.) The vagina, I mean woman, began her diatribe, I mean monologue, about her ex-husband, who forces her to shave her vagina, and then at her psychiatrist’s suggestion, shaves her vagina for her, what then becomes her “naked puffy vagina”. I almost bolted. (Justine seemed vaguely intrigued.) The next piece, “The Flood,” was absolutely no better. A flood coming from Elizabeth Schwall’s vagina? And it smells like sour milk? And there are pigeons, shrimp cocktail, and fish involved? I wretched once more in Justine’s lap.
All right, I hate vaginas. We get it. But heartwarmingly, I was surprised by how the sometimes dubious acting of the vagina-loving ladies still made me laugh. “The Vagina Workshop” features the ensemble being instructed by a woman who “believes in vaginas” on how to examine their lady parts with hand mirrors. Chloe Hall, cast as a woman in the workshop completely mystified by her vagina, searching endlessly for the ever-evasive clitoris, learns to give herself pleasure right before the audience’s very eyes. All ends well, in an earth-shaking, ground-breaking, planet-moving, Pluto-obliterating orgasm, and then Hall accepts herself. I will admit, realizing the gravity of the situation—that I was sitting in a dark room filled with middle-aged gender studies professors and poetry-writing boyfriends learning about my very own genitalia—made me start to laugh. Now if only Hall had used her hand.
The next piece started with, “This is how I came to love my vagina.” I thought to myself, “Okay, Thu. If you’re going to sit through another hour of this, you should put your penis down for a second and try to get in touch with your vagina. Or maybe you can just laugh really hard”. The monologue, performed by Jessica Taylor, is about a woman whose lover Bob refuses to have sex with her unless she allows him to get a really good look at her cootch. This one really hits home. Everyone has been victim to this situation: Meet boring stranger who thinks that the key to great unpredictable sex is frequently changing between missionary and girl-on-top. Decide to engage in sexual intercourse with said boring stranger, because while nothing good can come of it, the worst that can happen is an accidental orgasm. Get down only to realize the stranger has a completely weird-o fetish, i.e., he will not take part in any vanilla boning without first thoroughly examining the object of his bone. Regardless of the fact that the piece turned out to be about Taylor discovering the beauty of her vagina (gee, really?), realizing this situation could easily have been reported to me by a friend on a Sunday morning brought an unexpected chuckle to my bile-filled throat. Good job, Monologues!
Kate Miller’s rendition of “My Angry Vagina”, though at times overacted, had some entertaining ditties about going to the gyno, but it was Nadia Talel’s “My Vagina Was My Village” that opened me up, so to speak. Talel’s performance depicting a Bosnian woman raped and tortured by a band of soldiers was at its best moments haunting. My penis shriveled just a little bit. This applies equally for Kay Zhang’s “Say It,” about an ambiguously Asian woman demanding an apology from the Japanese government for forcing her into sexual slavery as a young girl. Despite her ambiguous accent, Zhang’s forceful voice, filled with the bitterest betrayal and indignation, resonated in the small theater. Between the two pieces squeezing my very little heart was Andrea Lee’s beautifully acted “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could”. I was completely convinced I was watching a young girl who gets punched at seven years old, then gets raped by her father’s best friend (who is then shot and killed by her father before her eyes) at age ten, and finally receives her sexual instruction from a twenty-four-year-old lesbian at the age of sixteen. Lee’s smooth transition from humor to tragedy to sexual transformation impressed even my vagina-skeptical soul. Let us digress for a moment to assuage Justine’s ambivalent feelings about this piece:
“The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could” represents, basically, a fairy tale in a sexual context, beginning with childhood humiliation and concluding with not just sexual comfort, but utter blossoming. The twenty-four-year-old lesbian who initiates the young sixteen-year-old into the world of liberation, self-respect, and bliss acts as a (albeit fucked-up) maternal figure for the girl, guiding her hand towards her clit, offering her the love and attention the girl clearly missed growing up… But the piece never addresses anything that might be wrong in this sort of situation—like, say, statutory rape. Though it was consensual, the teenage girl is underage and engaging in sexual activities with an adult. In the piece, it is portrayed as an act of fulfilling exploration—but I had to re-imagine the piece with a twenty-four-year-old male instead of the Amazonian power lesbo, who answers the phone when the girl’s mother calls, saying with an impish grin that the girl was doing just fine… For all its feminist sentiment, “The Vagina Monologues” neglected to hold women to the same standards as men in negative contexts, including, say, the law. “Feminism” is the belief that men and women are equal, not that women are better than men. Though we’re parading our vaginas on stage, in no way is the potential for disaster removed in a situation like that of “The Little Coochi Snorcher”. I was disappointed at this point with “The Vagina Monologues” (though before I was totally down for chanting “vagina”). I couldn’t take it seriously anymore; it just became a series of charades punning on “clit” for cheap laughs.
And we resume.
And then. It happened. Lea Steinacker. If you are reading this, this is a solicitation. We want you. Not, like, for anything. We just want you. Steinacker’s performance as a lesbian dominatrix transcended the dubious acting and fishy smells prevalent throughout the rest of The Vagina Monologues. Only two words come to mind: Smoking. Hot. Oh, and moaning. There was a whole lot of moaning. (This, if anything, really made my penis not shrink.) Steinacker, portraying a powerful sexual being restrained by her silent heterosexual encounters, turns to the other side when she realizes the beauty of making women moan. The rest of the monologue follows as her demonstration of nearly two-dozen different types of moans, climaxing in a triple orgasm and followed by her exhausted collapse face-forward, onto the floor. Stick a fork in me, I was done. I was a born-again vagina warrior.
Poignant yet slightly squishy “I Was There in the Room” followed, featuring Peale Iglehart and Alanna Gregory, and then the finale by the entire cast. And then some words about actual causes that people actually care about, namely New Orleans and how it is the vagina of America (yes, we tried to Verbatim it), and how we need to be more aware about the plight of the world. Vagina, vagina, vagina. I have to give this year’s cast of The Vagina Monologues an A for vagina-effort and its vaginability to make me rethink the world’s vaginosity. And actually nothing empowers me more than learning that, apparently, the clitoris has 8,000 nerve fibers, twice the number found on the penis. AWESOME.