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Humor, Violence Come to Town in `Vagina'

Humor, Violence Come to Town in `Vagina'

In honor of V-Day 2001, Ensler's Obie Award-winning play will be performed at Madison Square Garden in New York and at more than 200 colleges nationwide, including UNC. The play opens tonight at the historic Playmakers Theatre.

Ensler is not only an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and director but also an activist for women's rights around the world.

She is responsible for the worldwide V-Day movement to stop violence against women. Whether it's female genital mutilation in Africa, spousal abuse in the United States or acid burnings in India, she is working toward the common goal of peace.

"It's such a powerful issue that crosses over a lot of boundaries and brings people together," Ensler said.

Ensler is, however, best known for her extremely successful play, "The Vagina Monologues." The piece began as a one-woman show performed by Ensler off-off-Broadway four years ago.

"The Vagina Monologues" is alternately hilarious and deeply disturbing. But as important as the serious monologues are -- the tribute to Bosnian rape victims, an eyewitness report about the wonder of childbirth -- humor is the show's real strength.

Ensler said coming up with the idea for the play was entirely an accident. She was talking to a friend about vaginas and started saying things that really surprised her. Ensler realized she had no idea what women thought about their vaginas, she said.

"So I started casually saying to people, what do you think about your vagina? Everything that any woman said was so interesting and profound that before I knew it I was sucked down the vagina trail, and I've been there for many years now," she said.

Ensler hopes that the movement will be embraced by men as well as women. "I think that it is really important that men show support and become involved," she said.

The incredibly dramatic impact that the show can have on men was made obvious when the national tour made a stop in Texas, Ensler said.

A man came in to see the play because he saw "The Vagina Monologues" outside and thought it was a pornographic show. He sat down and said to a woman next to him, "God, what are all these women doing here, this is like a chick flick, you know?" Ensler said.

"The man watched the show and he was grunting and moaning throughout and being a little depressed by it, but when it got to the Bosnia part and the woman talked about being raped with a rifle, he gasped audibly and by the end of the show he turned to this woman with tears streaming down his face," she said.

As Ensler performed "The Vagina Monologues" in cities all over the world, she saw and heard firsthand the terrible consequences of violence toward women. It was clear that something major and dramatic needed to be done, she said.

Her piece inspired V-Day in 1998, when a group of professional women in New York joined with Ensler and founded the anti-violence movement.

"V-Day is a catalyst, a movement, a performance that simply demands that violence must end, proclaiming Valentine's Day as V-Day until the violence stops," Ensler said. "Then it will be known as Victory Day."

Ensler said the connection between the two days is ironic because it is actually in the name of romance that a lot of violence is committed toward women.

"We picked Valentine's Day because the theme was to take the romance out of Valentine's Day and put the vagina back in," Ensler said. "I am not anti-romance, but I am anti-romanticization of patriarchy and domination."

The global movement sponsors cultural events to raise awareness and money for existing women's organizations. The ultimate goal of V-Day is to present a message that entertains and at the same time creates a dramatic shift in consciousness.

Ensler stresses that the centerpiece of the V-Day movement will be productions across the country of "The Vagina Monologues." The play is expected to earn between $3 and $5 million for women's organizations, in addition to the more than $3 million it has already raised.

Ensler, who is currently writing a feature film for Miramax with Glenn Close directing, describes the incredible success of "The Vagina Monologues" as somewhat of a mystery.

"I sometimes feel like I'm just in the wake of a great vagina miracle. The monologues are based on real women's stories, so when women hear them they hear their own stories back at them."

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"The Vagina Monologues" will be performed at 8 p.m. Feb. 15-17 at the Playmakers Theatre. Tickets are $5 for students and $7 for the community.

The Arts and Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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