A wonderful balance of comedy, celebration, and poignancy
By Caitlin McGrane
I was feeling very on-brand as I entered the Melbourne Fringe venue for The Vagina Monologues – I was seeing a play about vaginas, carrying a tote bag advertising The Stella Prize, and wearing Birkenstocks – clearly, I was peak-inner north Melbourne target audience for this production. After years of hearing the show derided and ridiculed for its discussion of vaginas, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about, and thoroughly enjoyed the wildly funny Deafferent Theatre production.
They’re interesting things, vaginas. On the one hand, gender essentialism is problematic and reductive; equating womanhood with anatomy is often used as a way of excluding trans women and non-binary individuals from conversations about gender equity. On the other hand, vaginas and the people who have them, are still often treated as unclean or unmentionable. I was also mindful that the production was performed by deaf (and non-deaf) women, whose experiences often go ignored in mainstream feminist discourse, so I was delighted to see their representation on stage.
The play, if you don’t know it already, is essentially a series of monologues about vaginas – their names, their functions, their appearances, the struggles of having one – all performed by four people in a way that openly celebrates all these aspects unapologetically and with gusto. It’s vital we create dialogues that reduce bodily shame, and Eve Ensler‘s The Vagina Monologues has certainly had a role to play in furthering feminist discourse. The Deafferent Theatre production at the Melbourne Fringe has for me only increased its relevance; because the play is delivered in Auslan with spoken English and English captions, it creates an inclusive space to talk about all things vaginas.
The performers themselves (Livi Beasley, Ilana Charnelle Gelbart, Hilary Fisher-Stewart and Marnie Kerridge – whose names are not listed on the Fringe website, and certainly should be!) create an atmosphere of intimacy through their gestures towards each other and the audience. As the performers drink wine and eat strawberries on stage, the audience feels invited into this space, like they are going to be included in the performance, and indeed we were through gesture, physical mimetic performances of birth, sex and menstruation. Despite not being able to understand the Auslan (and frankly, I was delighted to be excluded, because those of us who don’t speak Auslan shouldn’t be pandered to), I still felt in on most of the jokes, as though I had a seat at the table with the performers, which for me totally eradicated all the misgivings I had about the play’s listing on the Fringe website that we would ‘delve into the depths of womanhood’. The play delved deep into the depths of shame, misinformation and misunderstandings that often surround vaginas, and deftly brought to the fore the importance of understanding and accepting one’s own body, wherever possible.
Not all women have vaginas, and vaginas ≠ women, and Deafferent Theatre and director Jessica Moody’s exceptional production helped celebrate the vagina in a way that was sensitive and powerful.
The Vagina Monologues is showing at Arts House for the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2017 until Saturday 30 September. For tickets and more information go to: https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-vagina-monologues/