In The Vagina Monologues, playwright Eve Ensler scrutinizes, worries about and gazes upon one part of the female anatomy as if it was a fine, multifaceted diamond. But the “piece,” as Ensler terms the play, contemplates issues far beyond the eponymous organ; it considers the essence of life itself.
Under Timothy Stewart’s smooth, deft direction, Pollard Theatre Company’s production of Monologues features an extraordinary cast in the formidable Elin Bhaird and Brenda Williams with the appealing Megan Montgomery. The chance to see Bhaird and Williams onstage together should gain notice of theatergoers, and young Montgomery proves a stalwart side of this equilateral triangle. The production doesn’t excite as much as it provides substantial food for thought.
Amateur, staged readings of Monologues have become ubiquitous, often around Valentine’s Day. Such presentations are fine and heartfelt, but Pollard gives this work the professional, fully staged production it deserves.
For this 1999 piece, Ensler interviewed many women of various backgrounds and ages, and their stories are the sources for the monologues. Their experiences range from hopeful to harrowing. Many of the women appear surprised that anyone takes interest in their stories. As depicted in the play, Ensler’s interviews often seem cathartic for the interviewees.
The highlights include Bhaird as a 72-year-old “Noo Yawker” who suffered a mortifying experience as a teenager that changed her attitude toward “down there” forever. One of Williams’ characters meets a charmless man whose appreciation for the designated anatomy gives her new insight into herself. Montgomery’s performance as a Muslim woman who was raped brutally and repeatedly during the 1990s war in Yugoslavia makes one feel ashamed to be a human being.
After that, Bhaird rants about “my angry vagina” in the style of a rough comedy-club routine. Williams follow this scene with one about a girl from age five to her early teens that goes from devastating to disconcertingly hopeful. Ensler has made a study of the many slang terms for vagina, “coochi snorcher” among them.
Later, Montgomery plays a tax lawyer turned sex worker specializing in women. Her tour de force on “moans” ranges from the “clit moan” to the “surprise triple orgasm moan.” You just have to see it.
Ensler toured the country performing the monologues in their earliest incarnations. One scene features Oklahoma City prominently.
The designers have created an excellent platform for this production. James A. Hughes’ elegantly simple scenic design consists of five bentwood chairs and two small tables with water bottles for the cast on a two-level stage. W. Jerome Stevenson’s lighting design is understated and subtly effective.
In the final scene, Ensler tells about being present for the birth of her granddaughter. She compares the vagina to the heart. The latter “can change its shape to let us in. It can expand to let us out. So can the vagina.” Thus, vagina becomes a hopeful synecdoche for womanhood and, by extension, humankind. Despite all that goes on in the world, maybe we Homo sapiens aren’t so bad after all.