Episodic accounts span topics from spirited to staid

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February 26, 2010

1:58 AM

The lights have gone down, and the crowd has finally gotten quiet. A back door opens, and at least two dozen women file in and take seats in the front of a lecture hall. What is most striking about the group is how different its members are. Almost all wear some combination of red and black. Some have a bit of white. Several ethnicities are represented. Clearly, this will not be an ordinary night at the theater, and any notions to the contrary are dispelled when the language takes a distinct turn toward the anatomical. But when the show in question is Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” who would expect anything different?

As the title suggests — with all the subtlety of a charging rhino — this is a show about being a woman, and all that entails. In a series of direct conversations with the audience, one and sometimes up to four, actress talks about topics which range from first sexual experiences to, in one memorable piece, just how angry a sex organ can get. These stories were culled from interviews done by Ensler of over 200 women about their bodies and sexuality. What came out of those interviews is often surprising, funny, and at times even, tragic. Monologues about Bosnian women forced to endure sexual assault and genital mutilation practices in Africa and Asia serve as sobering reminders that all is not right with the treatment of women around the world.

Although this style of theater leaves little room for ambiguity of message, it is altogether effective and entertaining with the right people performing. Some are the right people. Some aren’t. Thankfully, the fine readings far outnumber the uninspired ones. Performing with her own character is Karina Tejada ’11, speaking as a young girl happily seduced by an older woman. Tejada handles one of the toughest monologues from the play with poise, with a realistic yet distinctive portrayal.

Examining the merits of a certain four-letter-word, beginning with ‘C,’ Katie Dalby ’11 brings the most comic energy to the play, and is a welcome reprieve from the somber details of atrocities committed against women. Also worth looking out for is Virginia Butler ’11, who plays a female-only prostitute and describes the fine art of moaning during sex.

“The Vagina Monologues” is tempered from greatness by a few performers holding it back. But for those pieces performed effectively, a performance of the show can be an unforgettable night. This particular production is no exception.

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