Eve Ensler's play "The Vagina Monologues" has been around for nearly 20 years (it was first staged off-Broadway in 1996). In 1998, and with the help of some supporters, Ensler launched "V-Day," a nonprofit foundation that has raised $75 million globally for women's anti-violence groups - all through benefit performances of the play. It has been staged internationally and produced as a television special by HBO. Ensler performed each of the play's monologues during its earliest manifestations, but it is more common now for stagings to feature a full cast of women than to be produced as a one-woman show.
The play comes from interviews Ensler conducted with more than 200 women across a wide range of ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds and ages on subjects like relationships, violence against women and sex. The stories Ensler gleaned were in some cases combined with other, similar stories she heard and in others left almost entirely as she heard them. Those "monologues" - that the audience will sometimes hear, sometimes see enacted, often both - are the very stuff of which the play is made and address subjects ranging from love to rape.
One of the options available to theaters performing "The Vagina Monologue" for V-Day (which consequently shares Feb. 14 with that other V-day), is two royalty-free performances of the play so long as certain stipulations are met. The performances must be readings (as opposed to full-on dramatic interpretations) and proceeds must go toward the benefit of a woman's organization somewhere in the world.
The Lycoming College theater department will present “The Vagina Monologues” at 8 p.m. Feb. 13 through 16 in the Mary L. Welch Theatre.
Director N.J. Stanley of the Lycoming College theatre department is opting to present a fully-cast, four-day run of the play - for both the actors' collective benefit, as well as the audience's.
Eleven students, four community members and Lycoming College's Dr. Betty McClain will take on their roles under Stanley's direction. The actors, whose ages range from 19 to mid-70s, will play both "themselves [as narrators] as well as characters within the play," said Stanley.
Regarding the multifaceted roles of the actors, Stanley said, "We are really pushing that envelope." The actors will not simply perform "readings" of the various monologues - there will be no music stands for them to rely on - but instead will do their best to do what Stanley called "making the stories as present as possible." Certain scenes within the various monologues will be enacted while the "narrator" guides the audience. The actors' approach to the material has been something that Stanley said has evolved over the course of the rehearsals.
"At first, we discussed the actors as 'channelers' for the voices of some of these women; but in truth, during the course of rehearsals it has become more and more theatrical," she said.
The play has been controversial since its 1996 debut, but isn't something Stanley feels should intimidate audiences.
"It's not an insider's kind of a play," she said.
The play isn't meant to isolate or indict the audience, but engage. One of the ways it does that is by simply making people laugh.
"I think it's universally funny," Stanley said. "You don't have to be a woman to appreciate the humor."
Another is the total and figurative demolition of the fourth wall, that imaginary barrier between the audience and the action on the stage (Groucho Marx breaking character to ham for the camera is a perfect example).
In "The Vagina Monologues," however, Stanley said "there's never a fourth wall to be broken here; the actors are always aware and trying to bring the audience into the experience."
The Lycoming College theatre department will present "The Vagina Monologues" at 8 p.m. Feb. 13 through 16 in the Mary L. Welch Theatre. The play contains adult language and situations and is recommended for mature audiences. It runs about 90 minutes without an intermission.
Ticket prices are $12 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. A special dinner and a show package will be offered for $18 per person on Feb. 15 in the Jane Shultz Room, Wertz Student Center. Tickets may be reserved by calling the box office at 321-4048. The box office will be open 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday for two weeks leading up to the performance and from 6:30 to final curtain on performance days.
For more information, visit www.lycoming.edu/theatre.