It has been ten years since the ground breaking performance of “The Vagina Monologues” that was staged at the Wyong Memorial Hall in 2007 and, next month, original cast member Rose Cooper is honouring the anniversary by bringing a new production of the show to the Central Coast. Performances will take place at The Rhythm Hut in Gosford on February 24th and 25th. An earlybird discount is available for tickets booked at https://cc365.com.au/tix/vagina before January 31st, and full details of the production and the V-Day movement are available from the VDAY CENTRAL COAST 2017 facebook page.
I was also a cast member in the 2007 production and, in fond memory of that show and eager anticipation of Rose’s new interpretation, I thought now might be a good time to reprint the review I wrote in response to my original experience of Eve Ensler’s phenomenal work:
THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES
A personal perspective, by Karen Ractliffe
Last weekend I was privileged to be a cast-member of a show the like of which the Central Coast has never seen before. On February 16th and 17th this year, the coast’s talented new director, Darlene Cole, made a little bit of history by bringing Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” to Wyong Memorial Hall. As I watched Darlene skilfully craft this show from inception to consummate performance, it was hard to believe she made her directorial debut less than a year ago. But, since Darlene’s first productions culled awards at theatre festivals on the Coast, in the Blue Mountains and at Canberra last year, no one doubted when she turned her creative vision to V-Day that the results would be memorable. And we were not disappointed; the show was a sell out success, with waiting lists for both nights even after extra seating had been provided. Proceeds from the show provided a figure in excess of $10,000 for women’s charities. Ten per cent of this will go to the international V-Day 2007 Spotlight Campaign, and the remainder will be divided between local women’s services: Northern Women’s Health Centre, Cantral Coast Domestic Violence Court Assistance Scheme, Elandra Women & Children’s Service, and Women’s Health Inter-Agency Group.
The show itself consisted of a number of monologues based on the experiences of women who attended Ensler’s vagina workshops in the US. These were presented – sometimes individually, sometimes in small groups – by a cast of sixteen diverse women introduced and guided by three show hosts with very different, yet complementary personalities: the deadpan and authoritative Christine Vale, the infectiously lively and enthusiastic Louise Sullivan, and the warm and charming Cheryl Wells. The monologues were harmonised and unified by something of a Greek Chorus involving the whole cast quoting remarks of women from the workshops.
Music and movement added another layer of significance. The show opened with the rich and powerful voice of Merin Graham singing “I’m a Woman: W O M A N” and was enriched throughout by the haunting harmonies of the all-female band “The Housework Can Wait”. The choreography of Francoise Angenieux added energy and grace to the group performances and chorus.
The monologues themselves embraced the experiences of women from a range of ages and backgrounds, and ran the gamut of emotions from disturbing and confronting, through moving and uplifting, to highly entertaining and hilarious.
In “The Flood”, Joan Dalgleish, the most mature cast-member, gave us the story of a 72 year old woman who was so traumatised by a humiliating incident on a first date that she was never able to form a close relationship with a man. She told the story with good humour and a natural sincerity that made it all the more real and poignant. At the other end of the age spectrum, a group of the younger women, led by the proud and defiant performance of Lyndsay Doyle, presented the poem in motion “My Short Skirt”.
The show had its darker side: we learned about the physical abuses and terror campaigns waged against the women of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There were disturbing statistics: Christine Vale revealed that 20 to 70,000 women had been raped during the war in Yugoslavia as a systematic tactic of war. After this, Rosemary Parsons gave us the harrowing story of a young woman who had been repeatedly raped and tortured by soldiers in “My Vagina Was My Village”. We also learned that an estimated 45,000 women were indecently assaulted or sexually abused in New South Wales last year. Jo Stanley detailed the horrors of female genital mutilation. “Under the Burqa” another poem-in-motion performed by Elesa Grace, Melinda Stackman, and Lyndsay Doyle, brought tears to the eyes of some audience members.
But there were also uplifting stories. In “Because He Liked to Look at It”, Carmel Mullin recounted “a good experience with a man” with superb comic timing, tone and expression. Her humour was gentle and endearing, but her story was also, ultimately, very moving.
In addition, Julie Bailey presented the confronting monologue “Hair” with sympathetic sensitivity; Leanna McNeil gave us a highly individual, amusing and vivacious account of an experience in “The Vagina Workshop”; Merin Graham tackled the serious subject of how women’s bodies are socially constructed with formidable personality and hard-hitting humour in “My Angry Vagina”; Kate Buckland gave us the engaging and touching recollections of a young woman who discovered love for the first time with the help of another woman in “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could” and Jo Stanley reminded us all of the awe and wonder of childbirth with the poem “I Was There in the Room”.
For many the highlight, perhaps I should say “climax”, of the show was Rose Cooper’s hilarious performance as a female dominatrix who “Loved to Make Vaginas Happy”. Rose delighted us by recreating the typical orgasmic moans of various women, such as the Irish Catholic, the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), the University student, the uninhibited militant bisexual, and culminating in the surprise triple orgasm with an Australian twist. Thank you, Rose. Your performance left us all breathless!
My own task in the production was to persuade audiences, of some 250 men and women, of the beauty and profundity of the word “cunt”. This was a challenge for me from more than one point of view. My previous experience on stage has been from behind the relative safety of fictional characters. I suffer badly from stage nerves and in the past I have dealt with this handicap by submerging myself completely in the character. I am not usually conscious of the presence of the audience. On this occasion, however, I was attempting to engage directly and intimately with the audience, and I wasn’t sure I would be up to the challenge. In the event, the response I received to this monologue, from audience members and also from other members of the cast, was extraordinary and surprising. I had auditioned for the piece for my own personal reasons but I soon found it had implications beyond the personal, that it tapped into something universal. From the start there was a chorus of eager support for sentiments of the piece, but as I began to perform it in rehearsal I found that individual cast members would come to me and tell me that they found it liberating and empowering. I began to realize that I was reclaiming the word not just for myself, but for other women as well. It was gratifying, therefore, on many levels when I reached the close of my monologue on stage and invited the audience to “say it” with me, to hear both audience and cast join with me in a rousing invocation of the word “CUNT”!
At the show’s finale, each cast member took a part in presenting the 2007 spotlight monologue, which this year focussed on the plight of women in war zones. As we each said our piece we took our place at a pre-assigned spot. As the last woman took her place it completed the V that stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina but, at the same time, it recalls the Violence against which the V-Day and International Women’s Day campaigns stand. As the show closed we joined with “The Housework Can Wait” in singing John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
I think that no one who has been involved with this production, either as cast members, stage and technical crew, sponsors, volunteers, beneficiaries or audience members has remained unchanged or unmoved by the experience. For my own part, I have grown as a performer, in my awareness of the issues the show has raised, and in my appreciation of the spirit of community that existed between all the women involved in the show. I would like to express my gratitude to Darlene Cole for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this truly inspired production of Eve Ensler’s inspiring and thought provoking work. Thank you, Darlene.
©Karen Ractliffe, February 2007