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Boston Herald: "V is for, um, well, victory; `Monologues' brings pleasure to many"


by Terry Byrne
Eve Ensler is just back from Bulgaria.

"Bulgaria," she says from her home in New York. "Can you
believe it? There I was with thousands of activists from Bosnia and Croatia and all over eastern Europe, chanting `vagina' in their own

"Vagina" is one of those words that elicit embarrassed
looks and averted eyes. It has long been considered a "dirty" word,
and one both men and women should avoid. But Ensler, through her
play "The Vagina Monologues," which opens at the Wilbur Theatre on
Tuesday, has turned the word into a rallying cry.

"I just don't get that attitude that `vagina' is a dirty
word," says Ensler. "Rape and plutonium and acid rain are dirty words,
and yet they're on the front page every day."

Ensler's surprise at people's attitudes toward their
anatomy led her to begin asking women what they thought of their genitals.
The series of monologues that make up the play were culled from
200 interviews with all sorts of women, young and old, shy and
bold from all around the world.

"But," Ensler confesses, "I honestly don't remember writing
the monologues. I don't feel that writer thing of `Oh yeah, I
chose that word there.' Putting it together was such an utter joy."

The play that emerged is a frank and sometimes funny
exploration of something that has been considered taboo. "Let's start with
the word `vagina,' " Ensler says in the play. "It sounds like an
infection at best, maybe a medical instrument: Hurry, nurse, bring me
the vagina!"

Much more than an anatomy lesson, "The Vagina Monologues"
asks why this organ of pleasure should create so much shame and
bemoans the fact that women lose their self-esteem and confidence when
they're taught to deny their desires. Besides listening to how
women feel about their most intimate body part, the play includes
horrifying tales of sexual abuse, touching accounts of older women
who've never ventured "down there," shocking vagina "facts" and the
hilarious names people have come up with for their

But when Ensler was ready to produce the play she found a
amount of resistance. "Oh, they wanted me to change the
title, and
tone it down," she says.

When she did find a theater to produce it, she found it
difficult to give the piece up to other actresses. "These women had
given me their stories and I was so protective of them. Still, I'm a
playwright, not a performer," says Ensler, whose other works include
"The Depot," "Ladies," "Necessary Targets" and the upcoming
"The Good Body."

"So my desire to do it was a huge surprise to me. But I
don't feel like I'm performing it. I'm allowing those women to tell
stories. I'm visiting with them for a while."

The production earned an Obie award in 1997 and led to a
National tour. "I traveled to so many cities and so many women came
up to me and told me they'd been raped or hurt, I was overwhelmed,"
Ensler says. "I thought, `I either have to stop doing this play or
do something to help.' "

The result was V-Day, an effort to end violence against
Women celebrated on Valentine's Day. In 1998, stars including
Whoopi Goldberg, Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon and Calista Flockhart
performed Ensler's play in a benefit for grassroots organizations
working to stop violence against women.

The event has since expanded, and this year 13 cities
around the world and 150 colleges celebrated V-Day. The celebrity
interest in "The Vagina Monologues" also has led to a casting
arrangement in New York where three high-profile actresses perform the play
for a limited time.

"Everything that's happened with this play has been a huge
shock to me," says Ensler. "In some ways it's always been beyond me.
I think the only effort I made was to create a balance in the play
Between love and sex and violence. It's the balance we have to find
in our everyday lives in an incredibly violent world."