A lucky 13 years ago, playwright Eve Ensler decided she would permit groups around the world to conduct Valentine’s Day performances of her seminal (ovarian?) feminist work The Vagina Monologues, provided they used the proceeds to combat violence against women. The demand was so great that Ensler extended her grant of one-off rights throughout the months of February, March, and April, and so what began as a single event in New York now includes more than 5000 events annually.
(That first New York reading caused a bit of a scandal when Donna Hanover, Rudy Guiliani’s wife and thus the city’s First Lady, participated, given that the text includes a rendition of all possible names for that portion of the female anatomy including my particular favorite, “Cootchie-Snorcher.” The scandal flared up again several years later when the show’s Off Broadway producers cast Ms. Hanover in the lead role, whereupon she graciously withdrew to spare her husband further embarrassment. He repaid her several months later with a public announcement that he preferred someone else’s cootchie-snorcher to hers.)
Most V-Day readings no longer coincide precisely with Valentine’s Day: maybe most people don’t want to celebrate this day of love by listening to graphic descriptions of rape, or even to graphic descriptions of orgasm. V-Day readings will take place in the next ten days at Chicago-Kent College of Law (this Thursday, February 17); at Deaf Quest Theater (this Thursday plus Sunday the 20th); at DePaul (Saturday-Sunday the 19-20); at midnight Saturday in Glen Ellyn; and at Loyola (next Thursday-Friday-Saturday the 24-5-6). Other schools and communities will do readings through April: see http://events.vday.org/.
Though the V-Day campaigns are conducted by community activists, there’s nothing to prevent professional performers from becoming involved. Wouldn’t it be great if next year some of the theaters run by women (including not only Martha Lavey’s Steppenwolf and Tara Mallen’s Rivendell but Coya Paz and Tanya Saracho’s Teatro Luna, Ann Filmer’s 16th Street, Jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble and Jenny Avery’s Next) could put together a collective presentation? I’d certainly pay good money to hear Amy Morton or Charin Alvarez report the famous dialogue-within-the-Monologues (“If your vagina could speak, what would it say?”–“SLOOOOOOW DOWWWWWN!”), or E. Faye Butler or Carmen Roman do the piece about the fundamental misguidedness of vaginal sprays: “It’s not supposed to taste like rainwater, it’s supposed to taste like pussy!”
And if there’s anyone in the theater community, or elsewhere in Chicago for that matter, who’s forgotten that violence against women remains a problem, that person should run not walk to see Aline Lathrop’s new play at Chicago Dramatists.
Bordello will cure you once for all of any notions that brothels are the appropriate subject of musical comedy (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) or female-empowerment romanticization (Pretty Woman). The play unfolds in what appears to be a standard workplace kitchen complete with signs reminding employees to wash their hands, but it’s actually more like hell’s break-room: the room in a legal Nevada brothel where half a dozen prostitutes await their next customer, try to evade the rules against phone calls home, and dream about making enough money to escape. No wonder the women call the place “Pussy Penitentiary.”
The play bears a striking similarity to the movie Raise the Red Lantern, in which the wives in a harem compete with and ally against each other. It’s no less true to life and compelling for that archetypal basis. So go see Bordello.
And happy V-Day.