At the heart of every taboo is the acknowledgement of a society’s failure to address some element of reality. And as Eve Ensler has shown with her frequently-revived 1996 play, The Vagina Monologues, it is what we don’t talk about that is often most telling about who we are.
Demonstrating the continuing currency of the work, a new production is on the way for Peninsula Productions’ studio theatre space in Centennial Park Friday (March 4) at 7 p.m.; Saturday (March 5) at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday (March 6) at 2 p.m.
Some 14 actors – both experienced and theatrical neophytes – will present the thought-provoking, real life-inspired theatre work in a fully-realized production, as opposed to a dramatic reading.
Directing the ensemble is Peninsula-based actor Lori Tych, well known locally for her performances of challenging dramatic material, as well as comedy, with the White Rock Players and other regional companies.
The Vagina Monologues – as the title clearly indicates – consists of a series of women characters of all ages and backgrounds talking frankly – and, one senses, for the first time in public – about their most intimate anatomy.
What they have to tell us, however, goes far beyond this basic premise. The monologues express, at once, the real, the conceptual and the notional. Permission to address what has been considered taboo is the trigger for memories often long-suppressed.
The Vagina Monologues provides the prompt to recount experiences that are often horrifying, disturbing and tragic. But it also supplies a cue for relatably humorous and absurd anecdotes that express much that has been left unsaid about realities for women, and the human condition in general.
Some, inevitably, have found The Vagina Monologues shocking, while latter-day feminists have decried what they have said is too narrow a definition of gender for these times – as well pointing to the danger of defining of women’s identity solely by a single body part.
But others have found Ensler’s frankness ultimately liberating and empowering; allowing many women – and also men – an opportunity to look beyond uncomfortable words, and their common euphemisms, to confront underlying issues.
“It opened up a whole dialogue,” Tych said.
And she said she believes the play is still relevant because the human race is still struggling to come to terms with discussing a lot of topics it raises.
“There are still things that are so intimate that it’s embarrassing to talk about,” she said. “So much of what we’re talking about is still considered taboo.
“For example, there is a word used in one of the monologues – I can’t mention it in a newspaper article – that I’ve been offended by all my life.
“It’s always had such a negative connotation. But, through the process of rehearsing the play, I’ve said this word so many times I can now see it in an empowering way – even as a springboard for confidence. I’m quite amazed how comfortable I’ve become with the word.”
Tych – whose directorial debut this is, outside of one informal limited-audience production at White Rock Playhouse – said she’s thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to work with the actors at Peninsula’s small studio theatre, which will be operating at around a 45-seat maximum for the production.
“It’s been a perfect-sized space to allow for maximum movement – and also stillness. You have that power of actors in stillness, so I’ve been getting actors to stand still and connect with the material,” she said.
Appearing in The Vagina Monologues will be Diana Kjaer-Pedersen, Jan Chadburn, Aurora Chan, Val Dearden, Nancy Ebert, Emma Greenhalgh, Samantha Hussey, Vanessa Jankowsky, Jane Mantle, Erin Marshall, Mikenzie Page, Rachel Ruecker, Gudrun Rowland, and Simran Toor.
The cast represents a broad demographic that ranges in age and experience from the early 20s to the later decades of life, she added.
“When (Peninsula artistic director) Guy Fauchon and I first discussed doing the play, we talked about bringing in people who were intrigued by the material, whether they had stage experience or not,” Tych said.
“The play has meant something different to each of them, and they’ve all gone into it for different reasons.”
Tych said that while she knows many in the audience will be women, she knows there will also be husbands and boyfriends there.
“It will be interesting what the potential audience ends up being,” she said.
What isn’t in question, she said, is the impact the show will still have.
“There will be a relatability to this, even though we all have widely varied experiences – and that’s why I’ve encouraged all of the players to speak the truth of the material,” she said.
“There is some incredible pain and suffering in there, but there is also a lot of humour as well. There is a wonderful playfulness in how we get up from these experiences and find a way forward.
“As has been observed before, the best comedy comes from a place of tragedy.”
Peninsula Productions adheres to all current provincial health orders and expects all patrons to do the same.
Tickets are $30 each, and available at www.showpass.com/ or by calling 604-536-8335.