Before I launch into abstract, quasi-provable thoughts as to why The Vagina Monologues rocks my socks, I’ll put forth two concrete arguments for why this show, opening February 15th, is unique, funny, and well worth seeing.
The script, actors, performance space and direction change every year.
I laughed at tonight’s rehearsal. You will too.
The Vagina Monologues shift each year as each director picks which parts of the script they want to mount. This ensures fresh, new productions. On top of this, anyone familiar with theater knows how much performances change from one night to the next. With a new cast, a new interpretation, and new material, even people who have seen the event two or three times before can enjoy something unexpected. And for those yet to see the show, know that Princeton requires your viewing The Vagina Monologues. As it does bickering. And completing Alcohol EDU.
In all seriousness, The Vagina Monologues hold as vital a place on campus as it did ten years ago. The world may seem PC to the point of sterilization within the college bubble. However, even apart from too-common sexual crisis, many students remain uneasy with their gender or sexuality. Discomforts can be small, or embarrassing: warped body image, harmless STDs, a lack of pleasure, or an inability to communicate. It’s the last of these that The Vagina Monologues hits hardest.
The struggle to claim the vagina is no one-time showdown, like the right to vote. Each vagina stands unique among the vaginas of the world – for what could be more personal? As such, claiming the vagina becomes a rite of passage for the vagina-endowed everywhere, and The Vagina Monologues begin to resonate as the timeless, epic story of sexual awakening undergone by every able-bodied person on the planet. Or so we hope. Men and women alike would do well to consider their symbolic vaginas and come to terms with how comfortable they feel around this part of their sexual psyche.
For those remaining unconvinced, who find no further use for vagina discourse at Princeton, I refer you to Amherst Regional High School in 1994. This school was so free-thinking that productions of West Side Story had been banned on grounds of racism. I do not kid.
This school deemed The Vagina Monologues to be a suitable replacement for shameless musical depictions of Puerto Ricans, and mounted the first high-school sponsored production. Many considered this scandalous. The media paid attention: ABC, NBC, CBS, and several other alphabet groupings gave the production wide coverage. Soon, angry letters began pouring in from all over the country, and the school received several national-level bomb threats. The FBI arrived as the play went up, to close the school and sweep the area.
Now: where does this place The Vagina Monologues on the gradient of revolutionary, threat-provoking work? Did A Doll’s House get bomb threats in 1879? No, it did not.
You need more vagina in your life. Just accept it, and enjoy the show.
– Sarah Outhwaite
This Thursday a coalition of campus-groups you have never heard of, and will never hear of again, will put on something you have heard of, and heard of, and heard of: The Vagina Monologues. Respectable crowds of students, faculty, and townspeople all will attend, among them both the vagina-endowed and the vagina-less. President Tilghman will be there, probably Dean Malkiel too. The Daily Princetonian will recycle its usual pabulum-fest of clichéd reportage stuffed with wooden quotes of revolutionary import from beaming, self-important directors. After a while, the many posters plastered around Princeton will slip to the ground through the action of rain, snow, or gravity and become part of the collective effluvium. Nothing changes, and next year the cycle will begin anew.
We live in a society defaced by, suffused with, and to some extent founded on a vicious and recalcitrant patriarchy that colors every manner of our life, thought, and language. I assent the truth of this and recognize it as an important component of progressive change. However, as for the conceit that makes The Vagina Monologues an effective vehicle for such change….you’ve got to be kidding. Far from the brilliant, incisive, and powerful performance it began its life as, The Vagina Monologues has become an empty ritual of gesturism, a forum for its audience members to bask in its own enlightenment, a burlesque of its former self, and at last a stale refrain obviating the need to speak or hear anything new whatsoever.
According to its posting on point, “The Vagina Monologues is a funny, deeply disturbing, and hopeful play.”
Is it? It’s certainly not funny – nothing could remain funny when repeated every year under the perpetual Damoclean threat of such plodding sanctimony. It’s certainly not “deeply disturbing” – everyone I know has seen it multiple times, and these days The Vagina Monologues plays even in Peoria. Perhaps it’s hopeful in the sense that it hopes to be relevant, hopes to be deeply disturbing, or hopes to be entertaining. But this hope merely gets at the sheer benumbing illusion in which the entire enterprise is lacquered – the illusion of making a difference.
Consider the illusory mantle of oppositionism in which such productions invariably cloak themselves – the idea of the avant garde coup struck against the serried ranks of puritanism and small-mindedness. Oh sure, there may be a few Anscombe-affiliated troglodytes who peek out from their smoke-begrimed grotto long enough to throw a stone or two down Vagina Way… before retreating beneath the inevitable counter-fusillade. But what is that, like five people total?
I feel overwhelmingly safe asserting that the relationship between the vast majority of campus and The Vagina Monologues is one of enlightened and self-congratulatory approbation. There’s simply no one left to shock or persuade at Princeton – we all “get it,” and it is in the collective throes of our dramatized “getting it” that the smug triumphalism of the piece consists.
Meanwhile, the typical reception of The Vagina Monologues has devolved into an empty voyeurism of novelty and titillation whose paramount concerns are which character will by played by a fat chick and which by a hot chick. The year-to-year changes in monologue are superficial and just reinforce the “vagina variety-show” format the play has lately assumed. Going to The Vagina Monologues epitomizes the Princeton tradition of comfortable activism whose impetus and consequence is the mere possession of noble intentions. It is lip-service in every sense of the phrase.
Ensler and Co., in an earnest desire to share The Vagina Monologues with as many people around the country and world as possible, have instead created a cottage-industry under the V brand, sensationalizing what they were to demystify and commodifying what they were to empower. As it stands at Princeton, The Vagina Monologues is little more than a way for bored Ivy-leaguers to expend their leisure-time imbibing a quantum of do-goodery and gawking at the image of their own enlightenment. In sum, The Vagina Monologues has become conscience-frigging for the sake of ego-stroking, signifying nothing.