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Spectrum deciphers 'Vagina Monologues'

How well do you know your vagina? Do you talk to it often? Is it an integral part of you, your life, your identity?

If not, there's hope. Spectrum Theatre's upcoming production of "The Vagina Monologues" seeks, among other things, to make these questions less unusual and less frighteningly off-limits.

"The Vagina Monologues" makes a point to talk about, well, vaginas. It brings the secret, hidden, forbidden details of women's bodies and sexuality into the open in a spirit of liberation and healing.

"The Vagina Monolgues" co-director Jen Stamey, a fourth-year College student, said the production tries to break audience members of their reluctance to deal with such taboo topics.

"It's amazing how infrequently people say the word 'vagina,'" Stamey said. "We're trying to make it so the word doesn't have the same negative connotation as it has had in the past, so that women become more comfortable with their bodies and sexuality and can discuss them freely and openly."

Author Eve Ensler wrote the Obie award-winning play and began performing it by herself. Since then, her individual efforts have turned into an international movement called V-day to end violence against women in all its forms. Today, the project has generated thousands of productions and benefit events worldwide, including a targeted campaign to bring "The Vagina Monologues" to college campuses.

Spectrum's cast of 12 will do just that this weekend.

"We're somewhat spoiled at U.Va. in thinking that this is an acceptable and well-received topic," said cast member Sandra Beasley, a fourth-year College student. "Other places have had lots of controversy, particularly some of the foreign countries that have had productions of the show."

Beasley cited the oppressive environment toward women in many Middle Eastern countries as particularly important contexts for "The Vagina Monologues." In places like that, she said, the play "raises things up for discussion that never would have been discussed otherwise."

The script takes an experiential approach to this discussion. Its strength, Stamey said, lies in the fact that it's based on a wide variety of real stories - the result of more than 200 interviews that Ensler did with all sorts of women.

"It all comes from truth and fact," she said. "As a result, the audience can get caught up in their stories until they forget that they're talking about their vaginas. Instead, they're just hearing about women and their lives."

But the appeal of these stories isn't that they're all pleasant to hear. One of the main projects of "The Vagina Monologues" is to give voice to the long-suppressed occurrence of violence against women.

For instance, one monologue, "My Vagina Was My Village," communicates the intense, brooding pain of a woman who had been raped by soldiers invading her village.

Kim Morgan, the fourth-year College student who will deliver this monologue in the show, said the poetic language of the script conveys the horror of rape in a shocking enough way that people will have to stop and listen.

"I hope hearing stories like this makes people more aware," Morgan said. "Everyone knows that things like this happen, but you usually don't hear details that make it seem real. It's something where the audience can really get in touch with the pain of this kind of violence."

By talking about such occurrences, the play hopes to help make them less common. Not talking about problems, Stamey said, allows them to become disasters.

"For so long, women were not supposed to talk about anything private or sexual, including anything of a violent nature," she said. "Even today, we see this in the number of rape victims who don't come forward because of feelings of shame or guilt. Anything that encourages women to be more comfortable with these issues and increase their ability to talk about it is important."

"The Vagina Monologues" appears Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium. All proceeds will benefit Charlottesville's Shelter for Help in Emergency, which provides comprehensive services to women and children who have been victims of violence in their homes.


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