Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” stirs up a lot talk, and that’s a good thing. It’s the cornerstone of V-Day, a worldwide movement dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.
Since its inception in 2001, V-Day has raised more than $30 million. “The Vagina Monologues” is performed in thousands of theaters both big and small around the world. It’s a singular event in theater, and the more press it gets, the better. This year, as always, proceeds from the show will go to Safehouse, a woman’s shelter.
Ensler’s “Monologues” rarely comes quietly to campus – last year wanted an all-minority cast, and this year there’s been some ambiguity as to the possibility of putting men on stage. The play itself comes with severe guidelines to ensure absolute fidelity to the script (one being that no men are to be part of the cast – though what defines an actor remains to be determined).
Last year’s production caused significant debate. Limiting who can perform for such an important cause is a tough argument to make. It feels unfair to see an audition flier that’s looking for someone specifically not you. As a university that values diversity, productions with auditions open to the whole student body ideally shouldn’t select a cast based on anything other than talent – but with “Monologues,” passion, not talent, is generally paramount.
True lovers of theater would say it’s not such an unjust situation. The genre is ever re-interpreting itself. Let the individual shows and producers do what they will – only good will come out of it. Selecting one group instead of another is an act of creative expression. Sticking to the same formula every year could eventually marginalize the production as a one-trick horse – always pertinent, but unsurprising. They would be right, sort of. Ensler’s play is part of a movement, and the larger ideals of art don’t always correlate – and sometimes are restricted – when tied to a specific political movement.
Fair enough. But there’s perhaps another alternative. “The Vagina Monologues” should reinvent itself as part of any play’s natural evolution while remaining relevant to its cause. All-minority casts will always be controversial, but the inclusion of a few men as “extras” (i.e., not part of the cast) required approval from the national chapter and a little semantic haggling.
“Monologues” needs to be more flexible than this. The play’s impact is concrete – it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Ensler’s work is one of the most important in the past 20 years and will be required reading for a long time. It’s time to bring in some of the ideals, because with them “Monologues” can only become more influential. An all-minority cast can galvanize marginalized communities and heighten awareness; abstracted versions can shed light on specific psychological and social themes. If the all-minority cast is too problematic, fine.
“Monologues” will always draw a good crowd and raise chunks of money because the play is that good and the movement that important. This year’s production is at the Power Center on Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. The advertising is bad, with few fliers and few announcements around campus. Regardless, Ensler’s play is one of the most relevant productions in modern theater. It’s an important chapter in political theater – we just need to let it breathe a little.
The Vagina Monologues
Sunday at 2 and 7 p. m.
At the Power Center