“Women secretly love talking about their vaginas.”
Despite what you may think, they do. At least, according to the opening scene of The Vagina Monologues, which was performed by a group of 12 women at Union City’s William V. Musto Cultural Center on three occasions last weekend. The play, written by the playwright-turned-activist Eve Ensler in 1996, is based on hundreds of interviews with a diverse group of women about their vaginas.
All of the proceeds from the show were donated to two women’s foundations – 10 percent went to V-Day, the violence against women awareness group started by Ensler in 1998, while the rest was given to Women Rising, a non-profit women’s advocacy group based in Jersey City.
The play, noted for sending audience members on a rollercoaster ride of emotion, addresses a variety of women’s issues from the comical to the uncomfortable to the horrific.
“Men have a handgun. We’ve got a semi-automatic, ladies.” – Yenexis Quintana
The very first scene involves a discussion about the word “vagina” itself.
“It sounds like an infection, at best,” says Quintana, who put the cast and performance together in order to benefit the non-profit groups. The show was funded by the city’s office of the city’s poet laureate, Ben Figueroa.
Vaginas have emotions, too
The opening scenes were comical, but the audience was still brought back to earth with a very serious monologue about pubic hair and the injustice of being expected to shave it. The monologue was performed by Jessica Fernandez-Cruz.
The play then moved into a section surrounding the idea of self-discovery, including a monologue by an elderly woman who scolded the interviewer for asking her about her “down there.” Performed by Jessica Mickley, the woman recalled how her entire life, she ignored her “down there.”
The monologues were interspersed with bits of trivia, usually centering on sexual abuse or medical facts about the vagina. One particularly horrific fact was that nearly 130 million women have been subjected to genital mutilation around the world.
Marleny Henriquez performed a monologue about how her vagina was simply, well, angry.
“My vagina is pissed off,” she said. After a full-blown rant on the injustices of some female products and OB/GYN examinations, Henriquez said she liked the piece because it addressed serious issues in a comical way.
“It comes right after you hear the facts about the genital mutilation, so you’re not sure what’s in store, and I think it’s a mix,” she said. “But these are things that are so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even notice them, but they still promote the same culture of violence against women.”
Violence against women
The most powerful monologue of the evening, entitled “My Vagina Was My Village,” was performed by Doris Grimes. It was originally dedicated by Ensler to the tens of thousands of women who were raped during the Bosnian Genocide, but Grimes said she performed the monologue for women much closer to her own life – those from her hometown of Monrovia, Liberia, who are still regularly subjected to sexual abuse.
“It’s obviously a very personal story. I’ve really seen these things, first hand, which made it particularly powerful for me,” Grimes said. “But I’m happy I had what it takes, because I don’t think I could have done the piece justice without having seen those things. I needed to see them to go where I needed to go to perform this piece.”
Violence against women, even despite some of the show’s funnier moments, is the overarching theme, and Quintana explained that this year, it was particularly applicable because of V-Day’s new campaign, One Billion Rising (OBR). OBR was a global initiative that took place on Valentine’s Day this year where women gathered the world, from New York City to India, to rally and dance against rape, abuse, and mutilation.
After the show, some of the performers talked about their experience doing the show. Most described it as one would imagine: empowering, enlightening, incredible to work with such a talented director and cast.
The full cast of The Vagina Monologues: Hudson County was: Jaime Randle, Jessica Mickley, Yenexis Quintana, Jessica Fernandez-Cruz, Jazlyn Carvajal, Evan Tintle Charpentier, Marleny Henriquez, Henrika Madea Smith, Doris Grimes, SaraEve Daly, Rocio Tordesillas, and Sailume Walo.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org