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The New York Times

Originally published in:
The New York Times

The Vagina Monologues’ started 30 minutes late. At 7 on Saturday night, when the curtain should have been going up at the Hammerstein Ballroom, the sidewalk outside was still packed with audience members trying to get in. The crowd was, despite the best efforts of the police officers on duty, spilling onto and into the middle of West 34th Street.

…The show was, someone had told me, the hottest ticket in town.

Could be. There was some serious star power inside, including Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Lily Tomlin, Winona Ryder and Calista Flockhart, who plays everybody’s favorite heart-on-her-sleeve television lawyer, Ally McBeal. What I couldn’t figure out was how Eve Ensler, a low-profile playwright and poet, had talked all this Hollywood feminist glamour into being in her show. Yes, it was a benefit for groups that are trying to end violence against women, but the world is full of good causes, and there’s a benefit every night.

…When the program finally began, around 7:30, all became clear. Nobody had told me that Ms. Ensler had the timing of an expert stand-up comic.

…Remember the accusations 25 years ago or so that the women’s movement had no sense of humor? That was then. Ms. Goldberg, resplendent in a wine-red robe trimmed in gold, could not possibly have ever been funnier than she was in the material she did to close Act I. Advocating bidets, Charmin bathroom tissue, fuzzy stirrups for gynecological exams and a number of more graphic pleasures, Ms. Goldberg caught fire and took the audience with her.

…Ms. Close had her own moment of true comic glory. Looking dignified and strong, putting on her eyeglasses, she began her reading, which was a paean to a particular four-letter word used to describe female genitalia. By the end, she was screaming the word, stomping her feet and raising a power-to-the-people fist in the air. The word had been reclaimed by women!

…The second act had some wonderfully outrageous humor, including Ms. Close’s aforementioned monologue and Hazelle Goodman’s energetic account of an adolescent girl’s first lesbian experience, but overall the tone was far more serious than in Act I.

I’m tempted to criticize the show for turning so earnest at this point…But there were heart-rending stories to be told.

…[W]hen Soraya Mire began a reading about the genital mutilation of young girls in Somalia, it was the first time during the evening that the woman at the microphone was telling her own story…The theatre fell into total silence while she spoke. Gloria Steinem, who was on stage with Ms. Mire, embraced her at the end.