With the help of a vagina puppet, female genitalia are able to say this and a lot more in director Deb Lemire's adaptation of The Vagina Monologues, an Obie Award-winning play making its Akron debut on Sunday at the Highland Square Theatre. The show, performed by Queen Bee Productions to benefit the YWCA of Summit County Rape Crisis Program, is being staged in conjunction with V-Day 2001, an international initiative to stop violence against women.
Written in 1996 by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues was assembled from 200 interviews Ensler conducted with women of all races and cultures. The topic: their vaginas -- how they were raised to view them, and their experiences with them, ranging from rape to first gynecological exams. From their discussions, 12 first-person accounts were compiled.
"Women are taught from birth basically that they should be ashamed about that part of their bodies," says Lemire. "If we can't talk about our sexuality or parts of our body, then it allows [us] to be ashamed of it, and that contributes to a lot of other problems."
Citing World Health Organization statistics, Lemire adds, "In Nigeria, they cut off women's clitorises; in Bangladesh, they throw acid on women if they turn down a marriage proposal; and in the U.S., one out of three women is raped or beaten. Domestic violence is one of the top 10 causes of death for women. Isn't that scary?"
The play was first staged as a one-woman show, and is now touring the country as a three-woman performance. In Lemire's production (she was granted rights to stage a one-night-only adaptation), 14 women dressed in eveningwear lounge on cushy furniture, sip white wine, and candidly recount the personal experiences of the women interviewed by Ensler. Their stories include a homeless African American woman's account of sexual abuse as a child (dubbed "The Little Coochie-Snorcher That Could"), an elderly Jewish woman's narrative of her "catastrophic first date," a rape survivor's experience in the Bosnian War, and a grandmother's story of witnessing the birth of her grandchild.
"My piece is 'The Angry Vagina,'" says Cherie McClain, better known as morning radio personality Cherie Maxwell on WMVX-FM/106.5. "I'm the one who doesn't like those visits to the doctor."
McClain hopes people don't take offense to the play's frank subject matter. "It's not a vulgar play," she says. "It's beyond the vagina. The play educates about respecting a woman. I hope men in particular will get a new view about respecting women, and women learn to respect themselves."