Despite its unique and provocative title, The Vagina Monologues” is much more than a highly acclaimed stage production. It’s also a social movement and a testament to the violence experienced by women and girls globally. “The Vagina Monologues,” directed by Jane Sibbett with a guest appearance by Roseanne Barr and 22 women actors, will run Feb. 8 and 9 at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea.
“Our cast is comprised of women who not only have talent, but also have the heart to be in this,” said Sibbett. “We also have two 16-year-olds who are participating, and who are on fire for helping. It’s nice to have some young women be a part of this.”
Eve Ensler, an author, playwright, professor and activist, wrote the “The Vagina Monologues” book in 1994 after conducting more than 200 interviews with a vast array of women – from urban New York City to remote African villages. The book was so powerful that Ensler adapted it for the stage, where it debuted off-Broadway in 1999 at the Westside Theatre. Since then, it has been translated into 48 languages and performed in more than 140 countries. Yet, despite these worldwide advances, saying the word “vagina” still makes many people uncomfortable 15 years later.
Performed for the first time in Kahilu Theatre last year, “The Vagina Monologues” runs as a series of soliloquies from different women on their struggles and life experiences with their sexuality. Some of the stories are funny and many are tragic, depending on the issue — rape, sex, menstruation, love – are just a few of the topics. The play raises awareness of the serious and often fatal struggles that women and girls face. It is a confirmation of how complicated, and often devalued, women’s experiences are within society.
“We have such a great cast that knows how to do this really well,” Sibbett said. “We’ve put a lot of humor into it too, which is a good balance. Because of the humor, and because of the mixed media I have included, I think people will enjoy it. I feel the humor is so key and I’m excited that we have a cast that is going to carry it off.”
Ensler adds to the play annually, connecting the dialogue to current issues.
“There are two new monologues this year and some of the old ones are still there,” said Sibbett, who also directed last year’s production.
Addressing domestic violence on Hawaii Island
“The Vagina Monologues” provides an artistic medium to raise awareness about these serious issues through humor, solidarity, and well…vaginas. The Family Violence Prevention Fund estimates that one in three women will face sexual or physical assault in her lifetime.
Hawai’i Island is not immune to the devastating effects of violence against women. Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth said, “Domestic Violence is a root problem to much of the crime and other negative social consequences on Hawai’i island. Our office is very active in the education of victims and others in the community – proactively reaching out to others in government and social services to improve the systems dealing with domestic violence – and most importantly, supporting programs that puts an end to the circle of violence.”
The play is described as a celebration of women and a celebration of the vagina. It’s also a dark reminder of women’s place in society—whether in developed countries like the United States, or in parts of the world like Central Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Asia and parts of Europe where women are raped, beaten, prostituted, murdered, and permanently immobilized by the fear that is instilled in them from childhood.
Yisa Var is one of the actresses in this year’s production and feels it’s imperative that we talk to our children about the realities of violence against women in hopes of breaking the cycle.
“Even if someone has not experienced abuse themselves, they will still connect to many themes throughout the show,” said Var. “I have an 11-year-old son, and although the show is recommended for a little older audience, I feel as a parent that it is imperative that my child learn the truth— good and bad. The stories in the ‘Monologues’ may go a little above his head, but I am hopeful that it will start a dialogue and help him to feel comfortable talking about sexuality and how to love someone without hurting them. It is a step toward breaking the cycle to put forth into the world strong, but sensitive, empathetic and loving young men. To do that, they need the knowledge. ‘The Vagina Monologues’ offers that and so much more.”
The play is full of powerful narratives that make a statement about the prevalence and reality of violence against women around the world. Participants acknowledge that saying the word ‘vagina’ is not going to end the war on women, but hope that it will raise awareness of harsh realities that many women face on a daily basis.
According to Ensler in her book, “I say ‘vagina’ because I have read the statistics, and bad things are happening to women’s vaginas everywhere: 500,000 women are raped every year in the United States; 100 million women have been genitally mutilated worldwide. Saying ‘vagina’ is the first step in acknowledging our authentic selves.”
Sibbett is just as passionate about empowering women to reclaim their power over their bodies and themselves.
“For the women who’ve experienced violence, I want them to know that they’re not alone. It’s a club that none of us wish we were a part of, but now that we are, I want them to know that they have a lot of support,” she said. “There are a lot of strong women that come from this. We can unite together and make a difference. “
“The more voices we get pulling together, especially on this island, the better.” She said. “I want people to know that there are resources for them, and that there are many other wonderful women that are going through this situation that they wouldn’t even suspect. Once we start putting our voices together we really can start making some changes.”
In addition to Barr and Sibbett, the cast of this year’s monologues includes Sara Beery Hagen, Bonnie Cherni, Sophie Dommer, Beth Dunnington, Rep. Cindy Evans, Ronja Giesser, Harmony Graziano, Barbara Harris, Isabel Kalaau-Catrett, Rona Lee, Rani Moore, Robin O’Hara, Naomi Peters, Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, Melinda Polet, Jan Rae, Madeline Schatz, Mary Sharma, Shanon Sidell, Maia Tarnas, Corine Tilson, Yisa Var, and Tess Yong.
Ensler’s work has inspired the social justice movement known as V-Day, with the goal to end violence against girls and women. It includes the worldwide annual production of “The Vagina Monologues.”
Performances of The Vagina Monologues and the V-day movement have raised more nearly 100 million dollars worldwide, and benefited numerous community-based programs dedicated to anti-violence causes.
“It’s important to raise money for needed programs on the Big Island and to celebrate the great writing of Eve Ensler, a revolutionary force for good,” said Roseanne Barr.
“Regardless of whether or not you’ve been touched by violence, I invite everyone to come to the show so we can all find our voices all together,” said Sibbett. “This has got to stop. It’s got to happen by us coming together as a community. It’s time for peace. We all deserve our divine right to choose happiness. None of us need to submit to this kind of violence.”
The Vagina Monologues shows at 7 p.m. on Feb. 8, and 2 p.m. on Feb. 9. Tickets are $10, $15, and $20 and can be purchased on line at kahilutheatre.org or by calling 885-6868. All profits will benefit women and families affected by violence on Hawaii Island.