By Anna Vecellio
“Good is towing the line, being behaved, being quiet, being passive, fitting in, being liked, and great is being messy, having a belly, speaking your mind, standing up for what you believe in, fighting for another paradigm, not letting people talk you out of what you know to be true.”
― Eve Ensler
From the moment you walk in to the annual Boston College production of The Vagina Monologues, the experience is one of a kind: The audience is made up of the widest assortment of people I’ve ever seen at any theatrical event. Every kind of stereotype or cliché group that people imagine makes up the BC bubble has a representative there. That same diversity in audience is reflected in the play itself. The show is made up of monologues written by Eve Ensler and based originally on her interviews conducted with 200 women in the 1990s. Amazingly, nearly every type of woman imaginable finds a voice within them.
As the narrator explains how the interview process worked, what women were asked, and any background information needed, the actresses take on the roles of real women and tell their most private stories. Even with the intense intimacy of the work, it is rife with humor – break down crying, pain in your stomach, laughter that never ends humor. At the same time, whether you’re a boy or a girl, young or old, first-time attendee or veteran, the monologues challenge you. They force you to watch agonizing stories of abuse, push your boundaries of acceptance, and acknowledge the potential problems in your own relationships. Most importantly, however, they do all this without apology. There’s no attempt to sugar coat the dark truths the flow under every monologue. You’re expected to be uncomfortable, but rather than make you feel guilty about it, the play encourages you to try and learn something about yourself and women in general.
Perhaps it’s that attitude, that there is always a way to expand your awareness, that inspires people to attend The Vagina Monologues every year. Every actress who dons the signature red accessory contributes something new and unique to the discussions of women, love, and violence that the show promotes. This year’s show was no exception. What I never realized before, however, was that while the atmosphere and message of the show is consistent – the monologues themselves are not. There is a core set of speeches that never change, yes. However, every year a new monologue is added to the mix. For someone new to the show, it wouldn’t be noticeable, but for those who seen it before – it’s jarring. It makes you sit up and pay attention, eager to learn what new woman Eve Ensler wants to introduce you to. In the spirit of the play, one that tries to give voice to all women, this rotating slot acts as a stage upon which a less popularized story can be told. In 2003, for example, Ensler created a monologue based on women living under Taliban rule.
This year, however, the new monologue was one that premiered in 2004 but is not included in the standard play. In it, four actresses (Maggie Snell, Danielle Wehner, Bernadette Deroń, and Tatiana Scaefer) stood together and recited monologues about the lives of four transgender women. This new addition comes at the tail end of a year that has featured the stories of the transgender community more heavily than any year before it. On one page of the news you have the tragic story of Leehlah Alcorn, a young transgender girl whose suicide prompted national discussion, and on the other you have the amazing success stories of women like Laverne Cox, the first transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy, and the Amazon show Transparent, which follows a family man’s journey through transition into a woman and won two golden globes.
In this year’s sensationalized stories, the good and the bad went hand in hand. The new series of monologues reflected that same dynamic. On one hand, the actresses captured the joy of finding a place and people who accepted them and, on the other, conveyed the crippling fear of violence that follows their every step. In isolation, the piece was moving and haunting. Within the context of the play, its inclusion in this year’s performance reminded me that, while the monologues are amazing and they tell many stories that would otherwise slip into anonymity, there is always another story to be told. There is always another woman whose suffering is being ignored and most of the time, it is only through works like The Vagina Monologues that her voice can be heard.
If I were to describe The Vagina Monologues in three words they would be: hysterical, uncomfortable, and addictive. No matter how many times I see the play, I know I will be back the following year, ready to be entertained again, ready to be challenged again.