If you were paying attention to the back channels of Salem theatre around Valentine’s Day, you may have taken your date to The Vagina Monologues, performed by the women of V-Day Salem at Capitol City Theatre. The play—first written by and performed by Eve Ensler in 1996—has become an annual, national event. Groups all over the country perform the play as a benefit for the V-Day Foundation, “a global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls.” Local proceeds also went to Safety Compass and Northwest Human Services.
Salem’s performance, directed and organized by Ashley Contreras, featured a cast of fourteen, most taking a single monologue, although some speeches were split between multiple voices. The performers were all “ordinary” people, in the sense that they are not a regular part of the acting community, but they were extraordinary in all other respects. The play, at its core, is about empowerment and community, and nothing fulfills that mission more than non-actors using their own voices to share these most personal of stories. If some speeches lacked polish, the actors more than made up for it with authenticity.
I once heard this play described as “everything that can happen to a vagina,” and that is more or less correct. Ensler wrote the play after conducting hundreds of interviews with a cross-section of American women. The monologues range from the comic, to the sacred, to the slightly erotic, to the moving. Some stand outs: Cassondra Bird Combs delivered my personal favorite speech about agency and righteous fury with “My Angry Vagina.” Jessica Myers left the audience in absolute silence with “My Vagina Was My Village,” a speech about wartime sexual assault. Erika Perkins was powerful and sexy with “Reclaiming Cunt.” And Kyla Krehoff brought the house down with “The Woman who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” which might have been called “the Orgasm Speech.” Uproarious.
The most powerful moment for me was when three members of the cast shared their own stories about sexual harassment in the workplace (an addition requested by Ensler herself). What brought these stories home was knowing that they had happened to these women, standing in front of us, in our own town. Yes, we know that Ensler based all of the speeches on real people, but there is a distancing that takes place in the translation. We could not distance these stories.
Why this play? The Vagina Monologues is a reminder that the personal is the political. When asked at the end of the performance to stand up if we knew someone who had been the victim of a sexual assault, fully ninety percent of the audience stood up. So long as we live in a rape culture, so long as women and girls are trafficked for sex around the world, so long as government regulates women’s bodies, this play and these stories of women’s experience will remain important.
The crowd on Sunday was lively and enthusiastic—eager to share stories and eager to listen. Sadly, V-Day comes but once a year. Keep your eyes open next February and check out this amazing performance.