It”s hard to say exactly why Eve Ensler”s “The Vagina Monologues” (opening tonight) has become such an international phenomenon. Perhaps it”s the play”s theme, about women”s experiences with their vaginas. Or maybe it”s the long roster of celebrity actresses who have taken on a part in this incredible production. More than likely, however, “The Vagina Monologues” is popular simply because it”s so entertaining.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Susan Johann

Comedienne Susie Essman, the guest actress at each of the Power Center”s performances, has built her career on her ability to be entertaining. She hosted this year”s American Comedy Awards on Comedy Central, has a role on HBO”s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and has also been in several movies, including “Keeping the Faith,” “The Siege” and “Punchline.” Here, in “The Vagina Monologues,” Essman makes somewhat of a departure from her normal repertoire. Accustomed to writing her own stand-up comedy routines, Essman finds joy in performing another author”s work. “In a certain way, when you”re a comedienne, being who you are on stage and writing your own words can be a powerful thing, a wonderful thing,” she said. “Yet I loved the chance to interpret someone else”s words.”

Essman, who also performed in “The Vagina Monologues” on Broadway at the West Side Theater, is joined on stage by actresses Tracy A. Leigh and Amy Love. Leigh, a veteran of local theater as well as television, has appeared on “Law and Order” and narrated Lifetime”s “Intimate Portrait” on author Terry McMillan. Love, a graduate of Northwestern University, is also an accomplished stage actress, appearing in plays such as “You Can”t Take It With You” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”

All three actresses bring their personal flare to “The Vagina Monologues.” In between each monologue, they can interact with the audience, other women on stage and make lists and other fun things that add humor to the show. These interjections not only add variety to each performance, but they also add to the audience”s ability to relate to the play. “I think all women can relate to something that the characters are saying,” Essman said. “All women talking about their experiences with their vaginas and so much of it is universal.”

Contrary to some preconceived notions that “The Vagina Monologues” is a feminist, male-bashing, militant work, Essman points out that the play”s appeal extends to both genders, as well as contrasting political views. And while some radio stations are afraid to broadcast the word “vagina,” Essman also feels that fear is unnecessary. “It”s a reality that people are afraid to talk about, yet without the vagina none of us would be born,” she said. “It”s so blown out of proportion. It should be a celebration.”

And a celebration of humanity, of womanhood and of that vital female organ, is exactly what “The Vagina Monologues” has become.

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