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Boston Herald: "Paying Lip Service to Sexuality: `Monologues' Both Funny, Triumphant"


03/21/2001

By Terry Bryne

Eve Ensler begins cautiously.

Eve Ensler relates 'The Vagina Monologues' at the Wilbur
Theater.
Dressed in a simple, form-fitting black dress with
spaghetti straps,
her hair in a girlish pageboy and her feet bare, Ensler
looks both
vulnerable and wise. Sitting in a red chair in the center
of the
Wilbur Theatre stage, behind a single microphone, clutching
a stack
of index cards, it's hard to know whether she'll deliver a
lecture
on anatomy or a strident call to arms against men.

``I'll bet you were worried,'' she says. ``I was worried,
too.''

Within minutes Ensler has the audience chuckling over their
Own trepidation, but, like the more than 200 women she
interviewed for ``The Vagina Monologues,'' once she gets going, you can't
stop her.

But you won't want to, so touching and powerful are her
stories of women's lives and their relationships with their most
intimate body part.

There's the elderly woman who dreams of dining with Burt
Reynolds, but hasn't gone ``down there'' since 1954.

There's the woman who has to go to a Vagina Workshop to
explore her own anatomy; another who learns to love herself through her
relationship with a man who loves to look at her vagina; a
young Bosnian woman who's been the victim of rape; even one about
the birth of Ensler's own grandchild.

The stories are mostly funny, sometimes frightening, but
they all become a celebration of women's sexuality and strength.

In between the stories are amusing lists of names people
across the country have given their body part to avoid saying its true
name, and a list of responses to simple questions Ensler asked
her subjects about their feelings and experiences.

Two of the best monologues provide a balance of humor and
horror.

One tells the story of a girl who is sexually abused as a
child but through the love of a woman, learns to love her ``coochie
snorcher.''

The other is the tale of a tax attorney who abandons that
career to
become a sex worker, and becomes a connoisseur of moans.

Ensler's recounting of the woman's list of moans, acting
out each one in turn, is worth the price of admission alone.

Ensler's monologues take on lives of their own, and
although Ensler has more experience as a playwright than an actress, her
performance is engaging and astonishing at once.

It's as if these women inhabit her for the few minutes that
she tells their tale.

The switch is most apparent when she stops to check her
index cards and introduce the next monologue.

Her unpretentious demeanor turns the performance into more
of a conversation among friends, making her calls for audience
participation (don't worry, there's only one) a natural
extension of the dialogue.

She also intersperses the monologues with ``vagina facts,''
most of which are terrifying.

One fact, however, Ensler allows the audience to call out
for at any time later in the performance (you'll have to see the show
for that one).

Director Joe Mantello only takes credit for ``supervising''
The production, but his eye for detail is clear.

Loy Arcenas's set design of a series of silk and lacy
scarf-like panels, combined with Beverly Emmons' red-hued lighting,
provide the perfect punctuation for Ensler's performance.

By the end of the evening, Ensler's sly humor will win over
even the shyest audience member.

Director Joe Mantello only takes credit for ``supervising''
The production, but his eye for detail is clear.

Loy Arcenas's set design of a series of silk and lacy
scarf-like panels, combined with Beverly Emmons' red-hued lighting,
provide the perfect punctuation for Ensler's performance.

By the end of the evening, Ensler's sly humor will win over
even the shyest audience member.