>THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES by The New Voice Company

>reviewed by daniel lim

>date: 13 jan 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall, raffels hotel
>rating: ****1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Oh, how the supposedly "better" half of humanity baffles me. Women never cease to alarm, astound and overwhelm me with their contradictory thoughts and drastic reactions dictated by emotions too intricate for my poor simple mind to ever unravel. To borrow from Mr Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know..."

I walked in with the faint hope that I would leave with a better understanding of the reasons behind their actions. I was prepared to open the box and taste the bitter-sweetness within, desperately hoping that I would not get diabetes in the process. I was prepared to squirm, cringe and defensively roll up in a fetal position in anticipation for the crass and blatant sexual overtones and innuendos, what with the "V" word in the title.

Facing the dimly lit and spartan set of three bar stools, two round coffee tables and three wine-glasses of water, it suddenly struck me that it was a monologue and that there would not be any real "acting". I was so, so very wrong.

The all female cast was superb. Monique Wilson, Tami Monsod and Dulce Aristorenas, in their matt black suits initially shocked me with their copious mouthing of the "V" word in various tones and pitches, with the accompanying synonyms, just to hammer one point home into my typical Asian traditional chauvinist male ego; the point being that "Vagina" is not a dirty word, it does not "sound like a disease", and women have every right to celebrate their feminism, and men should butt out.

>>'The ultimate success of this play is due to the strength and synergy of the cast and director and their amazing ability to paint vivid pictures in my mind'

With the hostile takeover of brain by heart, I was open to receive the "series of stories, based on interviews, in which women talk about the most secret part of their bodies" that is THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES; an outcry against society's unwarranted embarrassment at the word "Vagina" (even 30 years after the sexual revolution).

In one episode, I felt the lifelong aversion of a 72-year-old woman towards commitment; due to her traumatic teenage experience of "flooding down there" on the white seat cushions of her first date's Chevrolet. Tami Monsod's flawless portrayal of her eventual breakdown and regret at what might have been, of love and companionship sacrificed out of fear, is heartbreaking yet comical. When I laughed at parts of this episode along with the rest of the audience, I realised that humanity often seeks humour in extreme sadness, as perhaps we cannot fully face up to it.

The serious monologues like the Bosnian teenage girl that was gang-raped and the genital mutilation of African children portray the burning down of hope and the loss of innocence with startling effect.

Other episodes provide understanding and empathy - if not justification - with society's taboos like lesbianism and homosexual prostitution. Monique Wilson traces a journey into the sexual coming of age of a 6-year-old girl, of her misperception of her "little coochi snorcher" as an evil thing, to her later being child-raped by her father's friend, and her eventual realisation of self-worth at the hands of a beautiful secretary. Dulce Aristorenas' monologue of a reformed "lawyer turned leather-and-whip-equipped-prostitute who loved to moan and make other women moan too" hints at feminist generalisations that all men are incapable of making women truly happy; that women have to take matters into their own hands.

It ended off with the witnessing of a childbirth, the vagina shown as capable "of giving and receiving, of opening and closing", just like the heart, a living thinking entity by itself, capable of enduring pain and sacrifice, the back door to the true understanding of the multifarious nature of women.

In my opinion, the stars are the 200 odd women behind THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES who, in coming forth with their stories, faced up to their vulnerabilities and fears, and shared. However, the ultimate success of this play is due to the strength and synergy of the cast and director and their amazing ability to paint vivid pictures in my mind and plant wrenching emotions of sadness and laughter (at the same time!) into my heart with just mere words. For this, I salute them.