The room goes pitch dark, and without a warning, bright lights flash, pointing directly at the stage where three girls are standing in front of a portrait of a vagina stylized like a comic book drawing.
“We’re worried about vaginas,” Brenda Rios, Caitlin Ritch and Karina Camacho all declare simultaneously, unabashed and unafraid.
This sets the mood for the rest of the 2015 “Vagina Monologues” at UCI, where the relationships between women and their vaginas are placed front and center.
Written by Eve Ensler and first performed in 1996, “The Vagina Monologues” is an episodic play that Ensler wrote after years of interviewing a number of women about their vaginas — questions like, “What would your vagina wear?” and “What would your vagina say?” This opened up an entirely new dialogue about vaginas and what it means to be female, both to acclaim and criticism.
UCI’s 2015 production of “The Vagina Monologues” was pared down to bare basics, with the speakers, and of course vaginas, as the main feature. There were no props save a blue plastic mat and a wheelchair and no costumes besides a warm red zip-up onesie for one monologue. The words were the focus and the subject commanded all attention.
Although obviously a feminist piece of work, the “Monologues” were far from preachy or aggressive in politics. Instead, they allowed the individual stories to shine and it became clear that what it means to be a female, to have a vagina, is far more nuanced and complicated and beautiful than public discourse usually shies away from.
There were monologues that elicited laughter, like “The Flood,” performed by Joanna Laird. In a thick Brooklyn accent, Laird portrayed an elderly woman who confessed that after an embarrassing incident involving her vagina excreting fluid during a romantic romp with a handsome boy, she literally closed her vagina down.
“It’s like a cellar. You know it’s there but no one ever goes in,” Laird said.
“Because He Liked to Look at It,” performed by Katie Simmons, recounts a story of a woman who hated her vagina until her lover, the nondescript Bob, admired it for long lengths of time.
But a big part of being female is also the harsh reality of gender-based violence. The “Monologues” were straightforward about this as well.
“Vagina Not-So-Happy Fact” brought to light female genital mutilation, or female circumcision, a common custom in many countries. “Girl Out Of My Boy” focused on the struggles of transgendered women and the ostracizing they face in their journey toward transitioning and the violence they face day-to-day.
“My Vagina Was My Village” was written in dedication for the rape victims of the Bosnian war. Visceral, emotional and painful to listen to, the horrors of sexual violence toward women were highlighted in solemnity.
The “Monologues” in nature are meant to empower females and promote sex-positivity and there was certainly no shortage of this anywhere. “My Short Skirt” was a loud declaration that the outfits women wear are never an invitation for unwanted commentary or harassment and worn for the pleasure of the wearer alone.
While “vagina” is usually a word that people shy away from, the “Monologues” is something that should be experienced by everyone. It is all at once, despite the moments of laughter, despair, pain and frankness, a celebration of what it means to be a woman.