The Vagina Monologues Return to Penn State

When I approached a few of my friends about going to see a play called The Vagina Monologues, they were a bit hesitant. They weren’t sure what to expect, and frankly, neither was I. But isn’t that one of the great things about live theater?

Brain child of the notorious playwright, performer, and modern-day champion of feminism, Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues was a smart, shocking, up-close-and-way-personal look into the “down theres” of real women from across the world, each responding to the same prompt: “Tell me about your vagina.”

This was my first time seeing the show in its full, vaginal glory and I am pleased to report that Happy Valley’s local production, sponsored by the Center for Women Students, student-directed by Becky Guldin and Stephanie Wain, did not disappoint.

Initially I was skeptical—a free, student-run show with no visible ties to the university theater department? Not to mention, a show entirely about vaginas?

But the moment I walked into 105 Forum and saw the handmade backdrop (drawings/paintings/collages of what else but vaginas) and heard Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” playing overhead, my skepticism began to ebb. By the end of the first few monologues, it was gone completely.

Toni Igbenoba preforming "Angry Vagina" (photo by Haley Blazer)
Toni Igbenoba preforming “Angry Vagina” (photo by Haley Blazer)

The Vagina Monologues was not more of the same mindless entertainment we see so much these days; no — it was fodder for the brain, a push to think about things rarely, if ever, thought about. A tangible haze of contemplative thought and unchecked estrogen settled over the crowd. I caught myself tuning the questions explored by the characters back on myself (i.e. what would my vagina wear if I were to dress it?) It was strangely refreshing.

The show hit both extremes of raunchy comedy and heart-wrenching drama, a combination that was confusing to process. A light scene comprised of girls sharing their comedic “first period” tales was followed up by a chilling piece about the nauseating treatment of Japanese “Pleasure Women” in WWII. Sex, domestic violence, rape, homosexuality, sexual assault, masturbation — no subject was off limits, and all the women involved with this year’s V-day production absolutely brought it. The show struck nerves and brought tears — tears even I could not attribute to sleep deprivation — they were the real deal.

But of course, The Vagina Monologues was not for everyone. Despite the warning from the directors that the content was guaranteed to get explicit, a comical string of disgruntled male audience members could be spotted slipping out between acts. Clearly, it was more vagina than some of them could handle. Props for trying though, gentlemen.

Directors Stephanie Wain (left) and Becky Guldin (right) are met with applause. (Photo by Haley Blazer)
Directors Stephanie Wain (left) and Becky Guldin (right) are met with applause. (Photo by Haley Blazer)

After an enthusiastic curtain call and standing ovation, the directors invited any victims of sexual assault or violence seated in the audience to stand up. Not only did this evoke more applause and a few last-second tears, but it left the lasting impression that words were going left unsaid; something was still hanging in the air. The experience was not quite cathartic, probably because of the inexhaustible supply of real women with stories to tell — the “Infinite Vagina Monologues,” if you will.

The Vagina Monologues ran for free all weekend, with donations benefitting the Centre County Women’s Resource Center.

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