“Evolution began with Eve when she took the first bite of the forbidden fruit.” ~ A.N. Onymus (actually I just made it up)
My mind is exploding with ribald puns after watching Joanna Bessey, Jerrica Lai and Renuka Veerasingam hurl themselves holeheartedly… I mean wholeheartedly… into Hari Azizan’s boisterous dramatization of Eve Ensler’s phenomenally contagious Vagina Monologues. At the Actors Studio Box (where else?) – under the aegis of the Director’s Workshop program conducted by Krishen Jit and Joe Hasham – novice directors like Hari Azizan have found a dynamic springboard from which to launch themselves into a promising new career in professional theater.
Angry with the outrageous oppression of the feminine, the intuitive, the emotional, the artistic and nurturing aspects of the Life Force by a senescent but still warlike patriarchy. Angry with the hypocrisy and double standards that allow satyrs to be hailed as conquering heroes while nymphs are labeled whores and sluts. Angry with the patriarch’s schizophrenic fear of and fascination with sex, which has led to the association of female sexuality with shame, the commercial exploitation of man-made taboos, and the public denial of private pleasures.
Home truths are often generalizations that come across as simplistic when expressed in language. However, dance and poetry are ambiguous and fluid enough to stir the passionate imagination into an evolutionary leap of courage, born of despair and generations of quiet suffering. And it is through Eve Ensler’s polemical poetry and Judimar Monfils’s evocative choreography that Hari Azizan has chosen to voice her rebellion on behalf of the sheeplike silent majority of Muslim women who accept their submission without a whimper of protest.
Only four of Ms Ensler’s original monologues were selected for this 60-minute dramatization. Excerpts from esoteric publications like an academic dissertation on Gender, Culture and Religion (by Noraini Othman and Cecilia Ng) and Siti Zulaikhan Mohd Nor’s Kedudukan dan Peranan Wanita dalam Islam (“The Role and Responsibility of Women In Islam”) were inserted as text fragments.
The three actresses were in fine feline form as they launched into their tightly orchestrated business of confrontation, provocation, and group therapy. Ms Bessey was in admirable control of her delectable body and voice; Ms Lai, intense and wonderfully uninhibited, generously gave her all; but Ms Veerasingam was the bravest one, in view of her relative inexperience on stage (this is only her third public outing) and the fact that Indian girls generally have a harder fight against deeply ingrained cultural traditions when it comes to voicing controversial issues. A special round of applause for Mr and Mrs Veerasingam, Renuka’s extraordinary parents, for supporting their daughter’s bold venture into self-liberation!
The Mystery of Mysteries, reverently named al ghaib in Arabic, and worshiped as the Vesica piscis (the fishy vessel) in esoteric Christianity has long been the source of inspiration and the brunt of risque jokes. What Eve Ensler has done for the vagina – and the raising of planetary awareness through her V-Day Campaign about the brute violence that the rampant (and ever insecure) male ego has inflicted on women for thousands of years deserves much more than an Obie award.
Much as I enjoyed the performance and lauded the cogency and timeliness of the cause, I had reservations about a few stylistic elements that the young director seems to have borrowed from Five Arts productions like Skin Trilogy and Family. The angst-ridden melodramatization occasionally verged on hysteria, lending the poetry a militant, strident edge that grated unnecessarily. But in a close-minded, tight-lipped culture such as we have in Malaysia, subtlety may be a luxury accessible only to the well-heeled. As a female member of the audience remarked afterwards: “I didn’t really like the show but I’m pretty glad I saw it.”
In the final analysis, I found The Vagina Monologues vastly enjoyable and supercharged with meaning. And judging from the packed houses it has drawn since its preview, KL theatergoers are certainly titillated by the promise of anything that pushes the envelope – well, in this case, the sheath – in terms of self-expression. Never before have local audiences been treated to the sight of three women sitting on the floor with their legs wide open, spouting rude words while stitching up their labia with imaginary needles and thread.
All power to the Almighty Chibai, the Evermoist Cunt of Artistic Innovation, the Glorious Pudendum of Cultural Breakthroughs, the Numinous Nonok of Novelty that restructures and revitalizes the human condition.
If you haven’t yet seen The Vagina Monologues make sure you get to The Actors Studio Box early so you won’t miss James Lee’s hilarious video prologue. That alone is perhaps worth the effort of driving through KL traffic to catch the play.
26 January 2002