Sign of the V

Say this word: vagina.

OK, now say it without laughing. Or cringing. Or making an obscene gesture. Or staring at the floor.

Difficult, isn’t it? Well, after Feb. 14, it should be a little easier. On that infamous day of all things sappy, red and annoying, universities nationwide will be celebrating the V-Day 2000 College Initiative with performances of Eve Ensler’s Obie Award-winning The Vagina Monologues. The University of Detroit Mercy and the University of Michigan are but two of the hundreds of schools participating in an effort to end violence against women. Proceeds will benefit women’s shelters and programs.

The play is based on Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women in America and abroad about – what else? – their vaginas, and was originally performed solo by the author. The first V-Day performance was held in 1998, with luminaries from Winona Ryder to Whoopi Goldberg to Gloria Steinem conveying various experiences from rape and mutilation to grooming to giving birth.

The UDM performance (co-sponsored by Oakland Community College’s Womencenter), directed by Yolanda Fleisher, will feature a cast of local all-stars, including Lavinia Moyer, Shirley Benyas and Laurie Logan, as well as student members of the UDM Theatre Company. Fleisher assures that she will add her own personal touches to the play, which is one of her favorite works. She has assembled a Vagina Chorus, for instance, and the pieces will be dramatized. Each narrator will be identified by a unique take on the speaking stick – a soft-sculpture vagina.

Fleisher’s approach is in keeping with Ensler’s script – there is a good deal of humor in the piece. There would be no other way to convey the point that women and their bodies are to be respected, she maintains.

"Laughter opens people up to make them receptive," says the director. "When you’ve opened people up that way, emotionally, then you can deal with other kinds of issues."

But many of those issues are decidedly serious.

"The area that has carried so much baggage with it, that is the place that is the subject of war in many countries, that is the place where women are violated, that is where women give birth, and it’s still not OK to talk about it. It’s where pain, pleasure, love, sex, so many things happen for a woman, but it hasn’t been OK to talk about it," muses Fleisher.

Until now. Fleisher hopes Ensler’s play, and the V-Day Initiative, will help make what one character in the play refers to as "down there" a topic of conversation, at least as often as, say, the penis.

"When you say the word vagina all of a sudden it’s vulgar," observes Fleisher. "I hope if you say it over and over again, and if you say a lot of things over and over again, there won’t be a silence and there won’t be shame associated with it."

Vagina. Vagina. Vagina. Vagina. Vagina.

I feel better already.

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