Friday, April 17, 2020

The Vagina Monologues Revisited (Yet Again)

The Vagina Monologues was originally written by Eve Ensler (left), who based the show on the findings of her personal interviews with more than 200 women. The first draft was completed in 1996 and has since been rewritten in over 45 languages and performed in over 120 countries.

In January 2002 theater-lovers in Kuala Lumpur were treated to a Malaysian version of The Vagina Monologues. The production enjoyed a packed-out five-day run and I was assigned by to review it. The audience response was so enthusiastic the producers decided to restage The Vagina Monologues in February.

This time around, however, they were refused a performance permit by City Hall. Apparently, some ultra-conservative ulamaks in Kedah had heard reports about this dangerous and subversive play which threatened the very foundations of Islam's patriarchal mindset. So they issued a public condemnation - and that's all it took to put an end to what must have struck fear into them as a massive feminist uprising in Malaysia.

As a special tribute to the Sacred Feminine (coinciding with International Women's Day), I reproduce my January 2002 review below, along with a BBC news report that puts Malaysia in the medieval light in which it repeatedly and stubbornly insists on being seen...

Clamorous and Clever Clams
Antares is tickled pink by THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES

"Evolution began with Eve when she took the first bite of the forbidden fruit."
~ A.N. Onymus (actually I just made it up)

My mind is exploding with ribald puns after watching Joanna Bessey, Jerrica Lai and Renuka Veerasingam hurl themselves holeheartedly... I mean wholeheartedly... into Hari Azizan's boisterous dramatization of Eve Ensler's phenomenally contagious Vagina Monologues. At the Actors Studio Box (where else?) - under the aegis of the Director's Workshop program conducted by Krishen Jit and Joe Hasham - novice directors like Hari Azizan have found a dynamic springboard from which to launch themselves into a promising new career in professional theater.

The Return of the Goddess has long been prophesied and now she is back and angry as hell!

Angry with the outrageous oppression of the feminine, the intuitive, the emotional, the artistic and nurturing aspects of the Life Force by a senescent but still warlike patriarchy. Angry with the hypocrisy and double standards that allow satyrs to be hailed as conquering heroes while nymphs are labeled whores and sluts. Angry with the patriarch's schizophrenic fear of and fascination with sex, which has led to the association of female sexuality with shame, the commercial exploitation of man-made taboos, and the public denial of private pleasures.

Home truths are often generalizations that come across as simplistic when expressed in language. However, dance and poetry are ambiguous and fluid enough to stir the passionate imagination into an evolutionary leap of courage, born of despair and generations of quiet suffering. And it is through Eve Ensler's polemical poetry and Judimar Monfils's evocative choreography that Hari Azizan has chosen to voice her rebellion on behalf of the sheeplike silent majority of Muslim women who accept their submission without a whimper of protest.

Only four of Ms Ensler's original monologues were selected for this 60-minute dramatization. Excerpts from esoteric publications like an academic dissertation on Gender, Culture and Religion (by Noraini Othman and Cecilia Ng) and Siti Zulaikhan Mohd Nor's Kedudukan dan Peranan Wanita dalam Islam ("The Role and Responsibility of Women In Islam") were inserted as text fragments.

The three actresses were in fine feline form as they launched into their tightly orchestrated business of confrontation, provocation, and group therapy. Ms Bessey was in admirable control of her delectable body and voice; Ms Lai, intense and wonderfully uninhibited, generously gave her all; but Ms Veerasingam was the bravest one, in view of her relative inexperience on stage (this is only her third public outing) and the fact that Indian girls generally have a harder fight against deeply ingrained cultural traditions when it comes to voicing controversial issues. A special round of applause for Mr and Mrs Veerasingam, Renuka's extraordinary parents, for supporting their daughter's bold venture into self-liberation!

The Mystery of Mysteries, reverently named al ghaib in Arabic, and worshiped as the Vesica piscis (the fishy vessel) in esoteric Christianity has long been the source of inspiration and the brunt of risque jokes. What Eve Ensler has done for the vagina - and the raising of planetary awareness through her V-Day Campaign about the brute violence that the rampant (and ever insecure) male ego has inflicted on women for thousands of years deserves much more than an Obie award.

Much as I enjoyed the performance and lauded the cogency and timeliness of the cause, I had reservations about a few stylistic elements that the young director seems to have borrowed from Five Arts productions like Skin Trilogy and Family. The angst-ridden melodramatization occasionally verged on hysteria, lending the poetry a militant, strident edge that grated unnecessarily. But in a close-minded, tight-lipped culture such as we have in Malaysia, subtlety may be a luxury accessible only to the well-heeled. As a female member of the audience remarked afterwards: "I didn't really like the show but I'm pretty glad I saw it."

In the final analysis, I found The Vagina Monologues vastly enjoyable and supercharged with meaning. And judging from the packed houses it has drawn since its preview, KL theatergoers are certainly titillated by the promise of anything that pushes the envelope - well, in this case, the sheath - in terms of self-expression. Never before have local audiences been treated to the sight of three women sitting on the floor with their legs wide open, spouting rude words while stitching up their labia with imaginary needles and thread.

All power to the Almighty Chibai, the Evermoist Cunt of Artistic Innovation, the Glorious Pudendum of Cultural Breakthroughs, the Numinous Nonok of Novelty that restructures and revitalizes the human condition.

If you haven’t yet seen The Vagina Monologues make sure you get to The Actors Studio Box early so you won’t miss James Lee’s hilarious video prologue. That alone is perhaps worth the effort of driving through KL traffic to catch the play.

26 January 2002

'Monologues' banned in Malaysia

A second run of the hit show The Vagina Monologues has been banned in Malaysia.

Authorities in the capital city Kuala Lumpur have ruled the show cannot return because of "complaints from a number of people."

The work, written by Eve Ensler, had a brief Malaysian run in January, when three local actresses played to packed houses.

It is not known exactly what the complaints were about.

The play has been performed around the world and has featured a variety of stars including Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon and Whoopi Goldberg.

Previous productions in London have included models Jerry Hall and Sophie Dahl - the new cast features Anita Dobson, Lisa Stansfield and Cecilia Noble.


Marion D'Cruz, executive producer of Kuala Lumpur's Five Arts Centre which staged the first run, said she was disappointed that the show would not be coming back. 
She said: "The play stands as an important piece of theater, dealing with some serious issues of oppression and some things which are a little more funny.

"We do not choose to do controversial things because they are controversial. We have always done work we feel is important."

Originally produced in New York for a brief OBIE Award-winning run in 1996, the show has since travelled the globe.

[Source: BBC News]

The Vagina Monologues are anti-Muslim propaganda

I'd like to comment on the Editor's statement that the license for Vagina Monologue [sic] was probably refused on the grounds of sexual connotation. I beg to differ. I'd like to think that it is the insensitivity of quoting some Quranic phrases off the Quran by non-Muslims and interpreting it out of context that made them do that. I'm no Saint here but I believe that we should draw a line between what is truly artistic and what is just plain propagandist. I think the same would have been done if one were to put up a play and have people quoting the Bible and deconstructing it as the play flows. Tit for tat. How's that?

Zue Nell
7 Feb 2002


Be not quick to anger and lash out at external "enemies" - the "enemy" is ALWAYS within and it is called FEAR!

I ask you all to quietly ponder this: which is more "sacred" - books of scriptural admonitions designed to program your behavioral responses through semantic encoding - or the living, luxuriant forest that was cut down to print these books?

Book religions inevitably lead to the desertification of the planet and the desecration of the sovereign human spirit in the name of appeasing a punitive and bloodthirsty deity. What the Earth urgently needs is the demise of institutionalized religions and the resurrection of true spirituality - which is beyond the contamination and control of exploitative and manipulative forces.

In recent years we have witnessed a massive resurgence of the feminine principle - and Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues" is merely one more manifestation of this breakaway from patriarchal control mechanisms (which usually take the form of political ideology and religious dogma).

It takes a fearless spirit like Hari Azizan to rock the boat of unthinking, unquestioning conformity with any social programming which imprints taboos against bucking the status quo. Concepts like "treason" and "blasphemy" are man-made Catch-22s to prevent the untamed spirit of future generations from overthrowing the parasitic coalition of feudal and ecclesiastical vested interests that has secretly ruled our destinies for hundreds of generations.

Socrates offers us a very simple test of authority's authenticity: True Authority, he says, never resorts to coercion or compulsion; true authority is self-secure and allows all views. False Authority invariably ends up pointing a gun at your head (or burning you at the stake or banning your artistic output)!


[Originally posted 8 March 2013]