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The Vagina Monologues


The Arts House and the New Voice Company


Deanne Tan






Play Den, The Arts House



From Lips That Rarely Speak

The Singaporean production of The Vagina Monologues, directed by The Arts House Programmes Manager Jonas Abueva and starring Nora Samosir, Cynthia McQuarrie Lee and Anita Kapoor, could not have arrived any sooner. This provocative, intensely relevant social dialogue is particularly arresting in its Singaporean context. What other country can boast of having our unique struggle with sexuality and gender relations - as characterized by issues ranging from the SDU to the SPG to the Vietnam Bride? Of course, there is also something naughtily satisfying about hearing the word "vagina" reverberate between the hallowed walls of our Old Parliament building.

The Vagina Monologues was conceived as a series of interviews conducted on almost 200 women by its author, Eve Ensler. Having gathered rich material on women's sexuality and lives, it evolved into an award-winning play that has since touched audiences all over the world. The rich exploration of "vagina issues" by Ensler ranges from tongue-in-cheek humour about what women's vaginas would wear or say, the haunting trauma of sexual violence against women, now-commonplace stories of sexual repression, and beautiful stories of sexual awakening and pleasure. Abueva's production combines the complex material and emotions into one compelling fabric.

However, certain irksome things deserve mention up-front. While monologues are not necessarily easy to perform, in this case the basic story-telling was weak, with uneven pacing, inconsistent energy levels, and (most unforgivable) the inability of the actresses to memorise their scripts. The constant notes-checking was disruptive, even if you listened with your eyes closed. Samosir was the guiltiest party, even though her stage presence shone through her trip-ups.

The director's choice of three actresses from different backgrounds, the result of extensive auditions, was definitely interesting. There was one seasoned thespian (Samosir), one MediaWorks artiste better-known as Ah Girl (Lee), and one fashion magazine editor recently venturing into acting (Kapoor). Yet the director could have made better use of the ladies' natural chemistry to work each actress' strengths against one another, instead of simply placing the three side by side, each waiting for their turns to recite their monologue.

Nonetheless, the actresses each did justice to Ensler's script. Samosir engaged the audience from the start with her monologue of an elderly lady who "had not looked down there since 1953". Her rendition of the woman's self-ingrained disgust with her own sexuality was both funny and poignant. Her prowess on the stage continued in My Angry Vagina and I Asked a Six Year Old Girl, where she played an empowered but disillusioned woman, and a precocious, wide-eyed girl, respectively. Lee delivered an impressively sensitive performance, detailing war violence against women in My Vagina Was My Village with the sincerity to elevate The Vagina Monologues to the level of the universal. However, to my disappointment, she lacked something more arresting which is necessary for the stage. Her rendition of a grandmother's wonder upon witnessing the birth of her grandchild was bland and yet over-sentimental.

Kapoor, perhaps the most consistent of the three actresses, packed a punch but lacked dramatic colour in places. The Vagina Workshop, which tells of a woman's discovery of her vagina and sexual pleasure, was hilarious to begin with, and then dragged. However, Kapoor's pièce de resistance, and possibly the climax of the production (pardon the pun), was her simulated orgasms in The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy. Narrating the piece from the voice of a sex worker who only works with women, Kapoor's pretend-scientific "list" of orgasms was a scream (pardon the second pun). As she ran through the "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Orgasm" (completely silent), the "Japanese Porn Orgasm" (kitten-like coyness), the "Bisexual Orgasm" (quite manly), the "Triple Orgasm" (squeaks of joy peppered with surprised-joy), I could hear the corpse of the male patriarchy turning in its grave.

After the guffaws had died down, there was still the sense of something missing in the general scheme of the production: a feisty, liberated, post-feminist vibe (think Sex and the City). The most powerful aspects of the monologues, where they portrayed life-changing experiences which liberated women from lifetimes of repression and self-doubt, lacked intensity. For instance, in Because He Liked to Look at It, the narrator tells about a lover who spent hours appreciating the visuals of her vagina. This led her to shake off her life-long dislike of her vagina as an ugly thing, leading to a symbolic liberation from the imposed patriarchal concept of female sexuality as dirty. Painfully, the emotional punchline that delivered this seminal concept was chopped up into three awkward parts. Was this due to Samosir's chronic attachment to her script notes? Or perhaps she and her director were out of sync with the essence of The Vagina Monologues.

"After the guffaws had died down, there was still the sense of something missing in the general scheme of the production"

Previous Productions by The New Voice Company
The Vagina Monologues

More Reviews by Deanne Tan

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.