Toronto Star

Dec. 10, 01:00 EDT

Kids' poo-poo jokes are on a par with this puerile pooki play

Rosie Dimanno
Toronto Star

THE VAGINA Monologues should more accurately be called The Vagina Mythologies.

Or pussy propaganda.

It's the feminine mythtique disguised as feminist manifesto - ribald narrative and powder-room blather that purports to take back Eve's Gross Anatomy, reclaiming the thing Down There as an object of worship, of veneration, of idolatry.

For millennia, apparently, the vagina has gotten a rotten deal, hidden away between women's legs, misunderstood and under-appreciated, constrained and shackled by panties and pads, assaulted by cardboard-encased tampons and vinegar douches, demonized as smelly and bacteria-infested by purveyors of female hygiene products, never permitted its rightful voice - a guttersnipe whinge, judging by the dialogue in this piece of minimalist theatre.

Always overwhelmed and overshadowed - not to mention invaded by - the omnipresent, strutting phallus, the cock-of-the-walk in every culture under the moon, the Big Daddy of appendages. Poor, pitiful puss that just wants to be petted and loved for all its dank, bewitching glory.

Now, damp and malodorous could just as easily describe, say, the armpit or the rectum. But neither of those body parts, equally stigmatized, lends itself to politicized activism. I mean, who really feels the need to take back their asshole? Although the anus certainly is just as rich in slang terminology - and uttering, sometimes bellowing, all the naughty nomenclature for female genitalia is a major component of The Vagina Monologues.

This oddity was a hit off Broadway and beyond, a moveable feast of female empowerment (a word that should be struck from the language), though not always welcome in places such as Tulsa, where local papers refused to carry ads for the show. (Word-of-mouth proved sufficient for a sold-out engagement.)

The author of the piece, Eve Ensler, has said she was motivated to explore the vaginal culture in part - big surprise here - because she'd been sexually abused as a child by her father, who is now conveniently dead.

Ensler based the script, such as it is, on some 200 interviews conducted with women of all ages and backgrounds who were asked to talk about their `pooki,' as one lady described it. And, after some initial reluctance, oy, did they talk
Ensler based the script, such as it is, on some 200 interviews conducted with women of all ages and backgrounds who were asked to talk about their ``pooki,'' as one lady described it. And, after some initial reluctance, oy, did they talk, though I suspect Ensler took much, much literary license. Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close, Calista Flockhart, Winona Ryder, Lily Tomlin, Alanis Morissette, Whoopi Goldberg: all have taken turns talkin' girly dirty in the work that resulted from those interviews.

Appearing in The Vagina Monologues has become a badge of professional honour for actresses since the show was first mounted - you should forgive the expression - in 1994.

Now it's come to Toronto, where The Vagina Monologues opened this past week for a limited run at The Music Hall on Danforth, receiving wild applause from mostly female audiences. The permanent cast is bookended by Americans Starla Benford and Sherri Parker Lee, while the third role is filled by a Canadian guest star. Gloria Reuben of ER fame will be replaced in the weeks ahead by Shirley Douglas, Sonja Smits, Chantal Kreviazuk and Mary Walsh.

Those women will stretch their acting muscles by, among other exercises, delivering an orgasmic aria - one episode in the sketch format montage calls for a variety of ``moans'' as offered by a dominatrix character who lives to pleasure other women, an altruistic endeavour intended to release the sigh/shriek within.

The reviews I've seen have been raves.

I think Vagina sucks the big one.

It is infantile pap (smear) tarted up as trenchant social commentary. Imagine a bunch of little kids making poo-poo jokes and you've pretty much got the premise, except that poo-poo has been replaced by all the diverse vernacular applied to that part of the female anatomy. It's not shocking, merely puerile. The humour is lame, the writing mostly banal, the climax anti-climactic.

Even when it aims for poignancy, it achieves only bathos, most especially in a truly odious ode to the vaginas of Bosnian rape victims. I suppose it's acceptable these days to appropriate the voices of sexually assaulted Muslim women and turn it into entertainment. That's white, Western feminism for 'ya.

Over the years, I've listened to untold numbers of male stand-up comics doing riffs on their willies, to humorous effect. Richard Pryor and Denis Leary come most immediately to mind. But there is most commonly a goofy quality to their humour - as well as some genuine insight into the power politics of the pecker - an acknowledgment that the one-eyed snake is the tail that wags the dog, if I can jumble my metaphors.

As fodder for funniness, a man and his penis are rather like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy or Senor Wences and that weird hand puppet (which, come to think of it, looked an awful lot like a pooki).

It's true men are endlessly fascinated with their member, perhaps because they are so much in touch with it. I mean, it's so overtly there. And it has a life of its own, it does tricks, it's a born entertainer. A penis is a stand-up comic.

God forbid The Vagina Monologues should attempt to similarly take the mickey out of its subject matter. But you can't do that to a goddess. That would not be in keeping with The Adoration Of The Vagina. Instead we get monologues that hit every stereotype, every clich*, every women's issue du jour: sexual abuse of girls, domestic violence, hysterectomies, genital mutilation in Africa. And, let us not forget, you better not forget: cunnilingus.

The monologues veer from melodrama to camp but, for all the show's pretensions to gravitas - even when trying to be clever and funny - it has all the emotional depth of a locker room joke that has the C-word as a punchline.

Further, The Vagina Monologues anthropomorphizes the female anatomy to a tiresome degree. Not only does the vagina talk, it also selects its own wardrobe (stiletto heels, a rain slicker, ermine and pearls ... like that).

There's no insight here. Only relentless self-absorption.

For my entire lifetime, women have been trying to convince men that we're more than just a pair of tits - although some of us are quite fond of our tetons, thank you very much. (Breasts get not so much as a mention in Vagina, by the way.) So now, it would seem, we should objectify ourselves instead and as no more than a cranky vagina. There's progress, ladies.

In the end, The Vagina Monologues disappears up its own twat.

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