Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Here's the film of the play that every man dreads being dragged to see. Eve
Ensler takes us on a cultural tour of the 'primary female sex organ', which is a taboo on at least
some level in most cultures. Far from being squeamish or shocking, if you can handle some words you
may have thought were dirty, Ms. Ensler's play is an entirely uplifting and mind-opening
experience that demythologizes and de-shames sex and women's bodies.
Eve Ensler's arrangement of monologues about the Vagina are interspersed with
backstage talk, and excerpts from the interviews she used to write the monologues and piece
them together into play form.
There's a commitment and joy to Ms. Ensler's play, which is very impressive in its approach to
its subject. There's also a lot of frank talk, but she's not a performance artist making use of
cheap shocks. Nor does she stress unduly the political implications of her subject, which are
The Vagina Monologues is practically a re-introduction for women to a part of their own bodies.
Ensler explains that for many women, the Vagina is a source of shame and denial on multiple levels.
Smiling, unburdened by doubt or secondary motives, her play asserts in positive terms the personal
value of taking possession of one's own sexuality as a source of pleasure and self-pride.
Along the way we hear stories both simple and dramatic about women's relationships with their vaginas -
Ensler very simply asserts that women aren't whole until they acknowledge the physical partnership.
Taken from her research interviews with women of many backgrounds, we hear stories of humiliation and
discovery, outrage and pride. Never becoming strident or didactic, the play relates the intimate organ
to the 'whole woman' through accounts of women learning to consider their vaginas as beautiful, and
finding fulfillment through sex that can only be achieved by exploring one's feelings without shame.
The hot topics are all here: rape, lesbianism (one of the most charming vignettes, actually), and, in
personal testimony from the Bosnian war, rape as a form of political terror. One never gets the
feeling that the show is expoiting any of them.
We're accustomed to hearing the crude names given the Vagina in humiliating & vulgar circumstances, and
we're also used to hearing the sounds of a woman having an orgasm mocked and belittled in cheap
comedy. Ms. Ensler strings all the words she's heard for the Vagina into a litany that shows them for
what they are, just words. They're ugly only because society can't handle or wants to bury Sex. When
she says them all out loudly and proudly, instead of being a cheap show, she empowers herself and her
audience. It's an interesting spectacle. And when she turns one segment into a review of all the kinds
of moans women make during sex, giving them humorous but uncritical names, it's an acknowledgement
that, for heaven's sake, a woman should be able to make all the noise she wants when she's happy!
Ms. Ensler is a wonderful personality. She's very self-assured, but has just enough softness in her
manner to allow us to listen without worrying about agreeing with her or not. The things she
says and the words she uses definitely ignore conventions about what women (or men) should say or be
thinking about - and perhaps her strongest message is that overcoming the barrier of 'the way one
was brought up', might be the key to self-understanding. Another surprising aspect of The Vagina Monologues
is that, because she's simply the messenger for the thoughts and discoveries of the women she's
interviewed, we don't have the option of writing her off as an isolated, radical woman with an agenda
to sell. A lot of very different kinds of women would find useful truth in the stories Eve tells. Only
ideologues unable to penetrate the frequent explicitness and honesty (crudeness?) are going to equate
Eve Ensler's message with decadence.
I can't imagine any woman not having a 100% positive reaction to the last segment, which is about
the birth experience. It comes at a good moment, just when we might forget that most basic function
of the Vagina, and conveys the beauty and wonder of the miracle of birth with a combination of
graphic honesty and poetic lyricism. It ends the show on an upbeat note, combining the pleasure and
reproductive aspects of sexuality into a positive philosophy. Very educational, as they say.
HBO's DVD of The Vagina Monologues is a handsome rendering of the television special, that
has exceptionally clear sound and a sparkling picture. The only flaw on the disc is a chapter toward
the rear, that had some very ragged stair-step patterns around highlights and Ensler's red dress.
They may have occurred in the encoding. Otherwise the picture is cleaner than clean.
The DVD opens up the one-woman Monologue format to show Ensler backstage for brief segments. This
helpfully allows her to convey her personality in a different situation. We see that her bright and
friendly attitude can't totally be a stage creation. In many little interspersed segments, we also
see a couple of dozen women of
all ages and races being interviewed in a studio setting. Their bright, wholesome faces talking with
Ensler convince us that the intimate issues of The Vagina Monologues aren't just the
preoccupations of one progressive New York feminist, but apply to all women everywhere.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Vagina Monologues rates:
Supplements: Eve Ensler bio, weblinks
Packaging: Snapper case case
Reviewed: July 12, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson