Thunda From Down Unda
What's a smart girl like you going around talking to old women about their 'down theres' for?"
That's one of the first questions asked in a series of playwright Eve Ensler's "vagina monologues" - this one by Debra Hensley, in the character of an elderly Jewish woman with a Queens accent, in a sequence called "The Flood."
It sets the tone for the entire show - which skips freely among contrasting and sometimes conflicting moments that range from embarrassing to discomfiting to hilarious to sad, and even tragic.
The show has been controversial (even boycotted) in many places. In some towns, the newspapers won't run ads for it. Perhaps because of the title (which is actually, pretty clinical), or perhaps because of the "outrageousness" of the subject matter. One of Ensler's lines refers to the Christian-run newspapers in Oklahoma City, when "everyone knows Christians don't have vaginas." (Here, the show is sold out. And a rehearsal performance was opened to the public to accommodate an additional audience.)
The performance is, in fact, outrageous at times (one of the monologues recounts a rape). But it's supposed to be. (And the point of the entire project is about ending violence against women.)
The language is, admittedly, not for the faint of heart. And some of it really can't even be reproduced here. Because -taken out of context - it would seem like something it isn't: vulgar. In context, while it may make the audience squirm (at least at the beginning), it eventually takes on a Mamet-esque rhythm that is thoroughly appropriate for both the subject matter and the attitude.
At a recent rehearsal at the home of Deb Shoss (Director), the cast gathered for a complete run through. Debra Hensley actually plays the narrator's role of Eve Ensler (which is eliminated in most productions), as well as various character monologues. Rounding out the cast is the Reverend Kelly Flood (a Unitarian Universalist minister for 10 years), Missy Johnston (a Lexington stage veteran and host of KET's News Quiz), Cathy Rawlings (another Lexington stage vet), and Kathy Stein, who represents Lexington's 75th District in Kentucky's House of Representatives.
Before they begin the rehearsal, they step into Shoss's bedroom to review their costumes for the actual performance, or as Hensley enthusiastically refers to them, "our vagina outfits!!!"
Each assemblage seems to represent and reflect the characterizations that they will inhabit for the evening. Stein laughs, "I'm doing the Junior League look..." pausing before she adds, "Not that I'd be fit to join." She's especially proud that she bought her suit 19 years ago at Wolf Wiles (and it still fits... "AFTER three children!").
Although the show is an ensemble piece, everyone gets at least one "starring" monologue. The subject matter ranges from rape to childbirth to child abuse to war and politics to frank explorations of sexuality.
There are also many opportunities for the group to interact, as when Hensley as Ensler assembles her "pussy posse" for a round of moans, ranging from the WASP, to Janis Joplin, to the Mountaintop, to Tortured Zen, to Diva, to (most hilariously) Kathy Stein's interpretation of the Surprise Triple Orgasm (which is a dead ringer for either 1. Kim Cattrall's early performance as "Lassie" in Porky's, or Meg Ryan's deli scene in When Harry Met Sally).
Asked how she thinks this performance will be greeted by her legislative colleagues and constituents, Stein says she "looks forward to the aftermath" if there is any, as an opportunity to defend how strongly she "believe(s) in the first amendment."
She laughs in anticipating the response, acknowledging there may be some fallout, asking "how could an elected official....?"
And as she trails off, Missy Johnston finishes, "have a vagina?"
It'd be hard to top a line like that.
The February 12 performance of The Vagina Monologues at the Singletary Center is sold out. The show was made possible by the Women's Studies Program of UK, The Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center, and Actors' Guild of Lexington. National "V-Day" events will be held around the country on February 10 to support the V-Day fund, established in 1998 to allocate funds to grassroots, national and international groups that combat violence toward women and girls.