Monday, April 15, 2013

D.C. Vagina Monologues Help HIPS

While Valentine's Day is a distant memory, the spirit of Eve Ensler's V-Day lives on. Just recently, D.C. revealed its 2013 production of The Vagina Monologues. And as usual, it was a hit.

Proceeds went to the V-Day global fund and local non-profit "Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive," better known as HIPS. Striving to reduce violence, drug use and HIV/AIDS among people engaged in sex work, volunteers drive a van filled with condoms, clean needles and other life-saving tools around the nation's capital.

While people might not be familiar with V-Day, everyone knows the Vagina Monologues.

Looking back, Ensler claims she was just a medium, taken by the Vagina Queens. "I never outlined the play or consciously shaped it," she said. In fact, she interviewed women about their vaginas on the side, while working on her "real" play.

But vaginas demanded the spotlight and the first monologues were performed by an all-star cast of celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon in 1998.

Beginning with the Vagina Monologue's raison d'etre, Ensler offers this explanation:
I bet you're worried. was worried. That's why I began this piece. I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don't think about them.
And that's exactly the point. Women's most private parts are often very public; on display, but never discussed. It was time to reclaim them with a sense of authority, and more importantly, pride.

After a few college productions and countless viewings, you could say I am vagina warrior. But I'm always surprised how each woman takes a monologue and make it her own.

This year's D.C. show had old favorites and new additions. While discussing floods, hair, sex and "down there," each woman was asked to consider her longest and most turbulent relationship; the one with her vagina.

From positive experiences to embarrassing episodes, audiences always favor the more erotic monologues. Chandler Sherman offered the most memorable interpretation of "The Vagina Workshop" I'd ever seen, blurring the line between orgasm and nervous breakdown.

Sadie Jonath dominated the stage in leather when she "reclaimed" the word "cunt." Usually this is the piece that insists on going over the top, but hers was controlled, concise, and got everyone involved.

The moaning was exceptional in "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy." During school performances, the college moan was always the favorite, confessing "I should be studying" or "Oh, Professor."

But the D.C. moans were clever and culturally accurate. "Fuck! Hurry up! We're gonna be late for brunch!" has surely been uttered by a Washingtonian or two.

Other District-specific delights were geographically influenced euphemisms for the word vagina. There was the "cherry blossom," and the "oval office," as well as "the red line," and "Mount Pleasant."

And, as usual, "Angry Vagina" stole the show. Local comedian and friend to V-Day Emily Ruskowski got all the great one liners, like "dry wad of fucking cotton.

Other monologues have a more somber tone. We all experienced rape as a tactic of war in "My Vagina Was My Village" and the wonder of childbirth through Ensler's eyes in "I Was There In The Room." New to me was the powerful group piece, "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy," with trans women describing their childhood befores, and adult afters.

But the show doesn't just raise awareness-- it also raises money. V-Day has helped women in Afghanistan, Haiti, the Congo, and elsewhere. Each year, a spotlight monologue is performed, focusing on the chosen place and the women who live there.

On its 15th anniversary, V-Day has started a new campaign. One Billion Rising is a response to the rape in New Delhi and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, among other recent tragedies. Now somewhat of an authority on the subject, Ensler explains,"Women don't want violence, they want love. And respect."

Ensler is fighting back against "data porn." She is admittedly tired of statistics describing how many women are assaulted and killed every year, every day, every minute. One particularly frightening fraction inspired Ensler's latest efforts: one out of three women in the world, roughly 1 billion, will suffer violence at the hands of a man in her lifetime.

After reminding audiences these abstract numbers represent real people, she ask just one favor of us. In an act of resistance, Ensler wants us to rise, and dance.

Perhaps this flash mob with a purpose will finally make a difference. It certainly couldn't hurt.

Playwright and activist Eve Ensler will be at Sixth and I on Thursday, May 2, to discuss her memoir In the Body of the World. Doors open at 6 pm.  

And V-Day D.C.'s devoted comedians will continue performing lady comedy (filled with vagina euphemisms) for HIPS. You can catch their next show Monday, April 29, at The Dunes. Laughter begins promptly at 7 pm. 

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