A not-so-private affair

jackie.stark

Over the next three days, audiences in the Forest Roberts Theatre can expect to hear wild moaning, discussions of pubic hair and lots of talk about vaginas.

“The Vagina Monologues,” (VM) sponsored by Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), is back at NMU for another round of vagina-loving celebrations.

The play is centered around several monologues which all relate to the vagina, be it through rape, menstruation, masturbation, mutilation, birth or orgasm, just to name a few.

“I think that the male sex organ kind of permeates society,” said senior secondary education major Ella Bartlett, who is also co-director of the play. “You can call someone a dick. You can talk about penises. In movies, there’re lots of penis jokes. But I feel there’s a lot of mystery and taboo about vaginas. We can talk about breasts but we can’t talk about vaginas. That makes a lot of women uncomfortable about their vaginas.

“It’s very important to know your sexual identity and be comfortable with who you are as a woman in society,” she added. “I don’t think keeping so much mystery and cloudy mysticism around the vagina is the ideal way to go about that.”

Bartlett’s co-director, Emma Couling, a sophomore theater major, said the play has stayed popular since it began in 1996 because of its unique subject matter.

“There are a lot of times where you make social statements in theater and then you lose your story,” Couling said. “What I think separates ‘The Vagina Monologues’ from that is that it never stopped being a social statement, and it never stopped being a story. It manages to do both without detracting from either one.

“It’s a celebration of women .,” she added. “We, as a society, are so pent up, we don’t talk about anything. And here’s this piece, here’s this hour and ten minute play about talking about things.”

Many of the members of this year’s 10-strong cast performed in the “Monologues” last year, and so are already familiar with the traditional format of the play. It was originally written with the concept that a single woman would perform each monologue. In fact, the author of the play performed each monologue during the play’s early years.

However, this year’s student directors wanted to try something new.

“We talked about how cool the show could be as an ensemble piece with a smaller cast,” Bartlett said. “(We wanted to) have them be highly involved with each other’s pieces, finding a way to let a lot of different women’s voices come together.”

As a result, all 10 women perform in almost every monologue. Also added into this year’s play are a set of bongo drums, which are the only dressing for the stage. The drums go along with the focus of this year’s spotlight monologue, which centers on a young woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Kylynn Purdue-Bronson, a junior Spanish major, and Amy Hickey, a senior international studies major, both performed in the “Monologues” last year, and said the idea of involving every actress in the monologues worked well with the message of the play.

“We had to learn how to work as a group,” Purdue-Bronson said. “It’s been more work, but I like it better. It’s more true to what we’re doing, which is uniting. (‘The Monologues’) isn’t about us being separated; it’s about us being united, and an ensemble interpretation is more about us being united.”

Hickey added that since the stage will have nothing but a few drums on it, the audience will have little to be distracted by.

“It allows you to focus on the women telling stories,” she said. “You can really listen to their words and not be distracted by the set or the scenery.”

Purdue-Bronson performs the lead role in the “Reclaiming Cunt” monologue, one of the most controversial monologues of the already controversial play.

However, it’s not the controversy, or the fact that she has to say the word “cunt” over and over again in front of a crowd of her peers that makes her feel nervous about the show.

She’s afraid she might miss a line.

“I’m nervous that I have lines to remember,” she said. “As a kid, I did not realize that the word ‘cunt’ was any more of a pejorative than the average term, like ‘bitch,’ ‘slut’ or ‘whore.’ So, I’m not really reclaiming the word for myself. I’m reclaiming it for others.”

Hickey will perform the 2009 spotlight monologue, “Baptism,” which is centered on the systematic rape of a young girl in the DRC.

“It’s really political and in your face and devastating,” Hickey said of her monologue. “I had to read it 10-15 times out loud before I didn’t cry when I read it.”

In last year’s showing of the play, Hickey performed “Hair,” in which she played a woman who is angry that her husband wants her to shave her pubic hair.

“(‘Baptism’ is) a lot more political,” she said. “In last year’s monologue, my character was a married woman whose husband made demands about her shaving her pubic hair. This year, it’s about rape and pillage and torture.”

The play costs $5 for NMU students and $10 for community members. It will show at 7 p.m. every night from Feb 25-27. All proceeds go to the Marquette Women’s Shelter.