From March 19th to 21st on the Tarbutton stage, the Oxford Drama Guild brought the V-word to center stage. The V-word in question—vagina—is the key player in Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues. A collection of stories collected from the playwright’s own interviews with dozens of women, The Vagina Monologues conveys the joys and pleasures, as well as the pains and horrors, that come with ownership of a vagina.
Annual performance of The Vagina Monologues has become some sort of recognized tradition at Oxford, an occurrence that has two consequences; of recognition and reverence, and of hazard of slipping into old routine. Though the student turnaround at Oxford is so quick that boredom in performance structure is not an issue, co-directors Haley Williams and Tyra Davenport challenged themselves and ultimately excelled in directing the show in a fresh, unique manner. The staging for the show is sparse but effective—a giant outline of a vagina hangs high above the ground in front of the stage curtains, glowing when the lights are down and giving it a sense of near omnipresence. The costuming for the show is focused around neutral-tones and airy, earthy clothing. The vast array of silky slip dresses, light-wash denim, and soft pinks is reminiscent of a modern-day Urban Outfitters advertisement.
Though Ensler initially wrote the monologues in the mid 1990’s, the stories told in the show are entirely modern. This is due in part by the various brief interludes dispersed throughout the play that give pieces of relevant information about various vagina-related topics. The short pauses in between monologues are effective in giving current day statistics and information that allow audience members to connect with the subject matter in an interesting and almost quantitative way. They range in content, from “Human Trafficking Fact” and “Genital Mutilation Fact” to namely more cheerful subjects such as “Happy Female Fact” and “Happy Clit Fact.” The clitoris is also a star player in the show, arousing praise at its mention from performers and audience members alike. For added emphasis, an entire panel of the shows playbill is dedicated to the mighty clitoris, entitled “The Clit is Lit.”
The undying praise of female anatomy such as the vagina and clitoris is the hallmark of The Vagina Monologues, and it is a theme that covers many of its individual monologues. The show begins with “Vagina Warrior Statement,” a proud, uncompromising declaration of the unwavering power of those who have vaginas. The following piece, “My Angry Vagina” is a piece that questions the limiting and dejection of the illustrious vagina at the hands such instruments as tight pants and stirrups. Other powerful monologues include “Revolution” and “My Short Skirt,” which bring up issues of the individual and public politics of a woman’s body. Some of the other monologues are pure fun, offering respite from heavier topics. Most notably is “Moaner,” which tells the story of an ex-lawyer turned strictly-lesbian sex worker who has a penchant for making clients moan.
Still, other featured stories deal in darker themes of sexual assault and abuse. “Crooked Braid” and “Memory of Her Face” tell the oft-ignored stories of women in abusive relationships, bringing to light their personal narratives and emphatically telling the horrors these women face. One of the final monologues of the play, “Say It” is an intensely emotional vignette about Japanese comfort women. Comfort women were women abducted from countries such as Korea and China to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese Army during World War II. The stories of the comfort women, though painful to hear, are a necessary addition to the show in serving as a reminder to the global sexual abuse of female bodies.
Filled with these various examples of empowering, lighthearted scenes and darker, gut-wrenching vignettes, The Vagina Monologues manages to volley back and forth tonally with ease. This is done in due part by the expert, impassioned work by the student performers and their dedication for telling such stories with complexity and respect. The performance provides yet another example of the immense amount and broad spectrum of talent that seems hallmark for Oxford students. The willingness for the students to bring these monologues to life, coupled with the fact that seats in Tarbutton were filled for nearly every performance, highlights the relevance of the issues brought up in the play. Though there is still work that needs to be done, the vagina is finally getting its due, after centuries of regulation, bullying, and abuse. Now, people are hungry to hear the stories and the voices of The Vagina Monologues, no matter their anatomy.