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Talking about more than the vagina

BY JED MILLER | FEBRUARY 26, 2009 7:37 AM

There is never a normal night at the Alley Cabaret. Walk through the dark hall, onto the stage of the Englert Theatre, and expect to see anything from juggling to classic plays. This weekend, the 1920s-inspired set will host 17 women talking about their anatomy in production The Vagina Monologues.

The play has been staged in Iowa City for years, but this weekend will mark the production’s début at the Alley Cabaret in the Englert, 221 E. Washington St.

Megha Nabe, a coproducer of the play, said she is glad this year’s performance is at Alley Cabaret, the Englert’s midnight experience. Besides the fun 1920s atmosphere, having the performance at the venue allows the show to stay away from the potential controversy that has been an issue in the past as a university-sponsored play.

“We were led through a safety walk,” Nabe said. “We were told what to do if picketers come and had David McGraw, the grand master of the department, on speed dial. It was serious stuff … I was surprised at how seriously that was taken and handled. And that we had to put UI security on high alert.”



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The monologues started playing Off-Broadway in New York City in 1996. Thirteen years later, the show is still popular with audiences. Shandhini Raidoo, a coproducer of Iowa City production, said she believes the show is popular because of its frank approach to sexuality.

“It’s the first big show that’s talked about being a woman and the vagina and body parts in general,” said Raidoo, a UI second-year medical student. “You don’t really say vagina when you’re having sex with somebody. You don’t talk about your vagina. There are a lot of other words used to describe it, and I think that all women have this conversation with each other about their sexuality — and somebody finally put it on stage.”

Eve Ensler, the writer of The Vagina Monologues, said everyone who wants to be involved with the show should be allowed to participate. This year’s cast reflects this rule, with medical students, theater students, and even one woman from a local health clinic filling the bill.

Director Emily Larson said she likes putting on a show that features non-professional actors.

“You could say, ‘Oh, it’s so hard having people with no experience,’ but really, I think it’s great for the theater students to see that sometimes it’s just better to talk from their own voice,” she said.
Raidoo agreed, noting that the show is beneficial for her and other medical students to see another side of the body.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for a lot of med students to step outside of just studying and being outside of anatomy bodies all the time and getting to do something different,” she said. “When you are involved in it on a medical level, it’s mundane. You forget that people have actual emotional experiences with it.”

Every year, the show features a new monologue written by Ensler that looks at a current issue from the woman’s perspective. Past topics have included the war in Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina.

This year, the new spotlight monologue is about the plight of women in the Congo. The monologue will be from the viewpoint of a 7-year-old girl in the hospital dealing with rape.

This year’s production will benefit the Emma Goldman Clinic, 227 N. Dubuque St. All proceeds from ticket sales, as well as revenue generated from a silent auction and T-shirt sales, will be donated to the clinic. Attendees are encouraged to bring feminine products to donate to the Shelter House, an Iowa City homeless shelter.

Because of the explicit nature of some of the monologues, the show has proven to be controversial. Perfomances of the show have been banned at some U.S. universities. Nabe said she hopes people who are wary of the show’s name will still attend.

“Don’t shy away from it just because it has the word ‘vagina,’ ” she said.


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