Warning: The following article contains themes of an adult nature, we all adults here right?
A brief background into Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues
The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written by Eve Ensler which premiered in New York October 1996. The monologues were first drafted following interviews with more than 200 women about sex, sexulity and abuse, as what begun as casual conversations took a life of its own. The body of work transcended simply being a piece to “celebrate the vagina” to a movement that fights violence against women.
The play has been adapted and performed over a 140 times, different cities, countries and continents by different theater productions since the original showing almost 24 years ago. The Vagina Monologues is not without colourful critique, controversy and a lots of backlash; even being banned in some countries.
The Vagina Monologues in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, a performance of this play, billed for the Harare International Festival of the Arts HIFA in 2005 was banned by the censorship board, but on account of not wanting to be the first African country to ban the play they relented (although in the same year it had gotten banned in Uganda) and “The Monologues” was cleared, provided advertising of the show was kept to a minimum and they refrained from using the word Vagina. The production had picked what they felt would be the tamest of The Monologues and had the audience enthralled by the unbelievable antics.
Then the fallout begun, people were threatened with arrest, from cast to organisers of the festival and there was talk of shutting down the whole festival. At some point, the play was performed, as unbeknownst to the cast, police officers were poised to arrest them, but sanity prevailed and as they say in show business the show went on…. I didn’t watch it then but I remembered the drama.
Variations of the play have been performed by Katswe Sistahood as part of 16 Days of Activism against gender based violence as a way of talking about women’s rights.
Zimbabwe is a conservative predominantly Christian country so issues on sex and sexuality are like the elephant in the room, never talked about, at least not in public, on the open and most definitely not loudly. Its 2020 and we trying to continue a courageous conversation Eve Ensler started over twenty years ago; when she declared that “she was worried about vaginas“
When Chipo Mawarire (the producer of this local adaptation of The Vagina Monologues) asked Raisedon Baya the director of Intwasa Arts Festival, if they could run the production, predictably he declined, emphatically so; especially given the play’s difficult history, coupled with our Censorship Board, who are like a dog with a bone in protecting our morals but their heart is in the right place…(at least I hope it is)
Chipo would not take no for an answer and had anticipated refusal so she challenged him into pushing the boundaries.
And here we are the play made it into Intwasa 2019
We have come a long way and still have far to go. I mean even the name of the play will have some of us running for the hills.
I could not help but chuckle when I saw an article reviewing the play in a local newspaper and it carried the headline The Genital Monologues
I could picture someone boldly asserting “listen, if you cant say the name, you cant come, now try again”
“It doesn’t matter how many times you say the word, it never sounds like a word you want to say, its completely ridiculous”
I finally got to watch The Vagina Monologues at the Justin Mphepo Little theater, Harare Zimbabwe.
What do you get when you mix a play about Down There,
A place where no one ever comes back from with four spirited performers
and an enthralled audience?
You get a full house, a standing ovation and a very interesting yet necessary discourse.
Having read the book, I was shall we say curious, to see how, they would bring the monologues to life on stage. The cast did not disappoint, delivering a stellar performance with great choreography not to mention thoroughly owning vignettes of characters they portrayed.
The play was a local adaptation of some of the monologues from Eve’s original work. For example originally Down There is said to be a place where nobody reports back from, like the Bermuda triangle but in this case Down There was likened to Chinhoyi Caves one of our own places with its own mysteries and intricacies. There were other variations which made the play relatable, like a therapist with the deep Shona accent whose impersonations which had the whole audience in stitches.
One would think the play would be awkward but it wasn’t awkward at all, at least not completely especially if you were a gentleman in the audience wondering what you had signed yourself up for, sneaking glances at the other people around busy thinking if one should laugh at this fundamental play of all things womanhood.
Round and round the actresses twirled in a sort of sensual musical chairs variation, each one getting their moment in the spotlight, be it to share the various names the vagina is known by or delve into their monologue;
The play is designed to be provocatively shocking, to challenge your way of thinking while still being enthralling, educative, informative even cathartic …. if it could talk what would it say? Words, punctuated with orgasmic moaning. Swallow me now earth
They sang, hummed, danced and giggled, as part of the act, drawing you in and setting the tone, you would feel it that this a light-hearted part giving you a cue that its ok to laugh, whilst the sober parts were accompanied by a solemnity and poised demeanor.
A woman narrating about how her spouse cheated on her because she would not shave her pubic hair and during marital therapy asks therapist if shaving would stop him from cheating and is told questions dilute the process. It turns out that shaving does not stop him screwing around and hair is there for a reason:
“The leaf around the flower
The lawn around the house“
An elderly woman who talks about down there a place she has never been since 1980 and no it had nothing to do with Mugabe, she had an “accident” during a make out session, well it wasn’t pee and not smelly, but the boy calls her “a stinky weird girl” and when she left she closed it, locked it locked The Store, never opened The Store again. We discover she got cancer and gets everything connected with down there removed
“What would it say?
I told you its not a person that speaks, it’s a place you don’t go
Closed up due to flooding“
My Angry Vagina
A woman ranting about the injustices wrought against the vagina such as tampons, douches and visits to the gynecologists
It wants silence and freedom
And gentle kisses and warm liquids and deep touch
It wants to stop being angry
If it could wear anything what would it wear? An electric shock device to keep away uninvited visitors
My Vagina Was A Village
Testimonies of women subjected to rape…
And I became a river of poison and pus
All the crops are dead and the fish too
Because He Liked To Look At It
A woman who discovers the beauty of her vagina after a sexual encounter with Bob a connoisseur who liked to look at vaginas.
I was there in the room
A graphic description of child birth from the vantage point of someone there in the room
The heart is capable of sacrifice
So is the vagina
It’s a very empowering play and the discussion question and answer period afterwards showed how people had been emboldened to tackle courageous conversations.
Before I go off and lose my newly found liberal attitude since theater is such an evolving space I hope next they will be adding their more of as soeontheir own monologues to the script, voices and experiences unique to us, as someone in the audience noted how Female Genital Mutilation is thankfully not a huge issue although we have a rather unspoken practice of labia elongation
Have you seen, read or heard of this play, would you even?
Ps I had a quick chat with some of the cast congratulating them them on their performance and bravery. They laughed and said it wasnt bravery it was practise, the first days of rehearsal had been a bit uncomfortable especially have a male director on set. The hard work definitely paid off