I did it–I forced myself to see The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler’s monotonous and excruciatingly un-funny play about women and their you-know-whats.
Or at least I saw about as much of the play as I could stand: some 18 monologues with no intermission that took up more than an hour and a half in a mid-afternoon outdoor performance on the Washington Mall. When I noticed that there were still about 10 monologuists lined up next to the stage and ready to go, and I read in the program that the play wasn’t scheduled to end until dusk–and the sun was still shining brightly at 5 p.m.–I packed up my weary bones and decided that I’d gone the distance. Sitting on the grass without a break for hours on end isn’t any fun, and I’d gotten awfully tired of vaginas.
It was one of those warm and lovely early spring afternoons, when Washington’s famous cherry blossoms festoon the bare tree-branches with pink lace and thousands of the winter-weary flock to the Mall to disport themselves on the grass in the sunshine. Trouble was, very few of those thousands actually wanted to spend the afternoon viewing “The Vagina Monologues,” even though the performance was free. For a donation of $20 (to some cause of Ensler’s related to violence against women), you could sit inside the “living vagina,” a red gauze-rimmed elipse on the grass near the Capitol Reflecting Pool, to watch the play. This, an Ensler enthusiast explained to me, was a piece of extra “performance art” dreamed up by her daughter to supplement the presentation onstage. The producers had clearly expected hundreds of candidates for the living vagina, which was huge, but in fact, I counted only a sparse 60 people, mostly females, many clad in red T-shirts (red seems to be the official color of the vagina), plus a couple dozen freeloaders like me perched just outside the rim. Nonetheless, the producers seemed proud that women now had “our own monument” on the Mall–to counterbalance the phallic symbol of the Washington Monument at the other end.
The play itself was surprisingly boring, leading me to conclude that when you’ve heard one vagina monologue, you’ve heard ’em all. It didn’t help that the succession of actresses who mounted the stage tended to deliver their monologues in a monotone shout (this seemed to be the community-theater version of “The Vagina Monologues”), and most had not bothered to memorize their lines, and so were obliged to read them off scraps of paper. There’s not much you can do, however, with lines like: “My vagina is my village.” Or: “I’ve lost my clitoris!”
There were many lame jokes, of which heterosexual men who don’t sufficiently appreciate women’s private parts were the butt. In one monologue, a woman complained about how horrible it is to go to the gynecologist–as though anyone ever expected a medical exam to be fun. The play’s main thrust, however, was writer Ensler’s effort to touch as many rad-feminist bases as possible. It was the kind of play in which prostitutes are always referred to by the politically correct term “sex workers.” A monologue about homeless women wasn’t just about homeless women but about lesbian homeless women. When the play’s focus wandered over to wife-beating among the Oglala Sioux, I nearly laughed out loud. (Needless to say, it’s the palefaces’ fault that drunken Native Americans haul off and hit their wives.)
In “The Vagina Monologues,” nearly all heterosexual men are brutes, spouse-abusers, rapists, gun nuts, or (often) all four. Husbands and fathers are Very Bad People, and the conservative, gun-loving states of Texas and Georgia are Very Bad Places. The one exception to the male rogues’ gallery: one monologuist’s boyfriend whom she described as liking to stare at her genitals for hours (he sounded like a perv to me, but there’s no accounting for taste). By contrast, lesbian sex in the play is always beautiful and fulfilling. And yes, the controversial monologue is in there in which a 13-year-old girl is plied with alcohol and statutorily raped by a 24-year-old lesbian, producing, we are told, the best and most tender sex in the teenager’s life. This production did skip, however, a promised monologue in which the actress shouts the c-word over and over in an effort to “reclaim” the word from somebody or other. This was good, because many infants in strollers and young children in the tow of their parents were on the Mall within earshot of the Ensler opus.
“The Vagina Monologues” is beloved of our nation’s elite. It has been playing for nearly a decade to packed houses in New York, winning several awards, and every year thousands of colleges around the country ruin Valentine’s Day by staging productions. Big-name actresses such as Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, and Kate Winslet have appeared in the play from time to time, and there was a production in Washington to honor then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. I don’t get it. The jokes are at the grade-school playground-level: kids getting a charge out of saying naughty words. The rest of Ensler’s work isn’t even a well-crafted liberal melodrama on the order of, say, “The Crucible” or “Inherit the Wind”; it’s just a drumbeat of feminist victimology. This all says something sorry about the infantilization of–and the decline of artistic standards among–our supposedly educated betters.
So after nearly two hours of this, I decided to skip the planned lighting of the candles of power inside the living vagina. One of the oft-repeated lines in Ensler’s play is: “If your vagina could talk, what would it say?” Mine was saying: Get the hell out of here.