Eve Ensler takes one last shot at ‘The Vagina Monologues’

Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues,” is under any circumstances a thrilling theatrical event. But what marks the play’s weeklong stay at D.C.’s National Theatre as truly notable is the announcement that these few nights will be the last chance for the world to see Ensler herself perform this world-renowned work.

Ensler’s original monologues were theatrical pieces incorporating stories told to her by more than 200 women of all ages. The longer monologues are often simply refined versions of the stories from a single person, but in other cases they combine elements from several women’s common experiences. During the Tuesday night performance of “The Vagina Monolgues,” Ensler noted how eager most women were “to talk about their vaginas, because nobody has ever asked them.”

She made a point to ask every interviewee certain questions, such as “If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?” and “If your vagina could talk, what would it say?” The most common answer to the latter question, Ensler said, was “Slow down.”

As the work’s author, Ensler adds and alters the original monologues, drawing upon her own experiences since first performing the monologues as she encountered a variety of responses to her work. Some of her most vibrant, personal accounts came to her from first-time audience members who, after seeing the play, felt they needed to tell her their own story.

While the original monologues run the gamut of hilarious to heart wrenching, stories about Ensler’s recent work are indispensable. Her experiences with Afghani women are particularly relevant and interesting.

Ensler’s casualness on stage is nearly as disarming as her wit and clever use of metaphors to ease the delivery of harsher monologues. Her vivid descriptions of violence against the women she personifies cause far more squirming in the audience than does the simple word “vagina.”

Thanks largely to “The Vagina Monologues” and Ensler, vagina is no longer so uncomfortable – or unusual – a word to utter in public conversation. Ensler has moved on to larger quarry in the game of re-appropriation, as she led the audience to chant a far less innocuous term in her piece “Reclaiming ‘Cunt.'”

Ensler breaks up her monologues with shorter lists, quotations and facts regarding the vagina that speak for the social conditions of women worldwide. She cited statistics of the number of women subjected to “gender mutilation” each year, a process that involves the cutting and either partial or whole removal of the clitoris, a practice Ensler said is most common in regions of Africa.

These facts have special relevance for “The Vagina Monologues” because, as well as being a praiseworthy artistic work, the play also is a prompt for social commentary and dialogue on women’s rights. Ticket sales for the performances at the National Theatre will go directly to the V-Day Fund, which supports groups dedicated to ending violence against women.

Among the many facts presented, there was one that Ensler read and re-read throughout the performance. She described herself as being “hard-pressed to find a positive vagina fact,” but this single fact stuck, for good reason, in the minds of many audience-members who began to recite the fact along with Ensler after her first reading.

The fact described the clitoris’ singularity among objects of the human anatomy for being the only element designed solely for the purpose of pleasure. The clitoris is made up of more than 8,000 nerves, which is twice as many, the audience jubilantly called, than found in the penis.

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