Loud and proud
‘The Vagina Monologues’ has a bumpy ride to the St. Petersburg stage.
Published: August 15, 2008 (Issue # 1399)
For The St. Petersburg Times
Don’t say that word! A scene from ‘The Vagina Monologues’ which has been revived in St. Petersburg this month.
“The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler’s controversial Off-Broadway play that became a global sensation in the late 1990s, first appeared in Russian translation in 2005.
Now it has been revived by Teatro Di Capua, an Italian company under the auspices of director Juliano Di Capua, for a run at St. Petersburg’s Music Hall. However its form and subject matter — women talking sincerely and loudly about physical, psychological, and social phenomena of the vagina — has caused a stir.
Di Capua, the director of the St. Petersburg version, vigorously defends the play against charges of vulgarity.
“The vagina is a temple, the most dignified place on earth,” Di Capua said. “How can people make it taboo?”
A year ago, when the title of the play was written in Russian on posters advertizing a previous run, the city’s consultative Public Ethics Committee, headed by singer and actor Mikhail Boyarsky, considered the title to be vulgar and had it painted over on billboards around the city.
Keeping the name of the play, written without irrelevant censure, is crucial for Di Capua. He’s trying to get permission from the Ministry of Culture and the city administration to use the Russian (Cyrillic) spelling (Ìîíîëîãè Âàãèíû) instead of the Cyrillic/Latin compromise (Ìîíîëîãè Vagini) currently used on posters to get round the ban.
“Support for and preservation of love, family, beauty, the hearth and home, is the mission of the play,” Di Capua said.
“The sexual revolution took place many years ago, why should I fight in today’s free and democratic society with old fears and prejudices? The [Russian government] called 2008 ‘The Year of the Family’ and at the same time it despises the word vagina — the symbol of childbearing and life.”
The Year of the Family campaign used posters of famous families, including Boyarsky and his family, to encourage Russians to have more children.
“Today’s culture, especially in Russia, is concentrated on suffering,” Di Capua said. “It cultivates pain, reflects and multiplies the darkest sides of life. But why is there so little place for joy, light, satisfaction, directness?”
The play is about enlightening audiences, Di Capua said.
One of the monologues takes the form of an interview with Bosnian refugees who were the victims of rape and violence, and highlights the scourge of cruelty toward women and mothers. In the U.S., this part of the play created the V-Day movement to stop violence against women.
“The Vagina Monologues” is made up of more than 200 monologues, gathered by its author. The heartbreaking testimonials from young women are at turns funny, tragic and thought provoking. Each monologue is somehow connected to the vagina, reflecting different motifs: sex, love, menstruation, the orgasm, gynecology, rape, masturbation, and birth among them.
The feminine soul, not physiology, is the main theme of the play, Di Capua said.
“The theater is the best place to talk about the soul,” he said, adding that the play expresses a woman’s sense of herself through her body.
In life, people use metaphors and euphemisms to replace “vagina” as if it was something indecent. The play begins with the variety of its names: medical, social, slangy, territorial, rude and humorous.
The actresses in Di Capua’s production, dressed in striking red costumes, cry out the names in different languages in a deriding manner. The shock tactic works. After the first monologue, no uneasiness is left; the audience gets used to the “horrible word” and is ready to absorb information.
Although the play is wise, sincere, and sometimes pretentious, it is also witty. Examples include the “Down There Monologue” of an old woman who refuses to acknowledge the existence of her vagina following an embarrassing situation on a date, and “The Pubes Monologue” about the conflict between a wife and her husband that says, “You can’t love only some parts of the body while despising others.”
“My Angry Vagina Monologue” humorously describes all injustices inflicted against the vagina, such as tampons, douches and instruments used by gynecologists. Menstruation is presented from different points of view — one is happy, another is shocked, yet another is bewildered about it. Women’s self-discovery and intimacy — whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual — are presented with a brilliant sense of humor. “The Little Coochie Snorcher Monologue” recalls traumatic memories of a first sexual experience.
“What would your vagina wear if she could choose? What would she like to drink? What does she smell like?” Several outspoken questions provide a series of daring poetic answers, without platitudes or vulgarity.
“My vagina would wear a pink neckpiece, hat, stiletto heels, diamonds.”
A lesbian monologue, in which the speaker humorously emulates different types of orgasmic moans, makes the audience laugh until they cry. But the audience’s real tears come during the “My Vagina was My Village Monologue,” the testimony of a Bosnian rape victim.
The final “I Was There in the Room Monologue,” describing the birth of a child, leaves no one indifferent.
“The Vagina Monologues” is playing at the Music Hall theater on Friday and again on Aug. 20 and Aug. 27.