Funny, poignant production of ‘Vagina Monologues’ hits Bay Area
By CAROL BENET
cbenet@thearknewspaper.com

Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” caused quite a sensation in its
1996 opening Off-Broadway and, since then, it has been playing
internationally.

“The Vagina Monologues” is a series of monologues about women and
their vaginas, stories of their sex lives, relationships and
often-violent encounters. The Tony Award-winning show was first
performed by Ensler herself, reciting all the stories.

The current traveling show, which is produced by Independent Cabaret
Productions and Shakespeare at Stinson, features three actresses who
are perched on bar stools, facing the audience to read their scripts.
After years of trying to pay the rent, the production company’s
artistic director, Jeffery Trotter, says it is now moving around to
different venues with “The Vagina Monologues.” I saw it at the
O’Hanlon Center for the Arts in Mill Valley.

This is a very fine production. The talented director Hector Correa
has plumbed the depth of humor and pathos resulting from the
storytelling.

“We were worried about vaginas,” Shannon Veon Kase says in a loud
voice that blares out at the almost completely female audience (my
husband, Correa and Trotter were the only men).

And why? The rest of the evening explains their anxiety.

Miyoko Sakatani and Anju join Veon Kase in telling their experiences
as being part of a study of 200 women who were asked about their
vaginas. Data were assembled from questions such as: If your vagina
got dressed, what would it wear? If it could talk, what would it say?
What would it smell like? These are only a few examples of the
questions that provoked the women, of all ages, to speak about their
vaginas and their sex lives.
With an English accent, Veon Kase described a vagina workshop she
attended. Sakatani related a story about Bob and his vagina fetish.
Anju told a story about being raped as a child by her father’s friend
and then again at the age of 13 by a 24-year-old woman.

Because the latter experience was not painful but pleasant, the
critics, including scholars and journalists, started complaining by
saying that Ensler’s work was damaging to normal heterosexual
relationships. The debate continues today. And so do Ensler’s
political activities against violence to women. She founded V-Day, a
worldwide activist movement to stop violence against women, which
raises funds through benefit performances of her works.

The 90-minute piece with one intermission seems just a bit long to me,
just as it did the first time I saw it with Ensler playing all the
roles. Shocking stories have more of an impact when they are part of a
shorter presentation.

Maybe a story or two less would have been better.

More recently Ensler wrote “Emotional Creatures,” which played at the
Berkeley Repertory Theatre in November 2011. It too was a series of
short, acted-out stories with set and costumes. Again, it consisted of
stories of women and some men who were sexually abused, but it also
dealt with teenagers entering a world where very thin and very perfect
bodies are valued.

Ensler and her works have opened up a discussion of women’s “down
there” parts that still makes people uncomfortable.
Maybe that is why the audience was mostly female.

Arts writer Carol Benet, a Belvedere resident since 1969, earned a
Ph.D. in comparative literature from UC Berkeley. She has been with
The Ark since 1975. Copyright © 2012 by The Ark Publishing Co.,
Tiburon. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
http://www.thearknewspaper.com/.

 

Theater review: V’s not just for victory in popular ‘Monologues’

By Sam Hurwitt
IJ correspondent

Posted:   09/20/2012 07:20:00 AM PDT

Shannon Veon Kase (from left), AnJu and Miyoko Sakatani star in Independent Cabaret Productions’ ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ Eve Ensler s ever-changing 1996 collection of theatrical monologues Story Rafter

LADY PARTS HAVE been much in the news lately, from Naomi Wolf’s latest book, “Vagina: A New Biography,” to Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s now-notorious assertion that the female body has hidden biological mechanisms to prevent pregnancy from “legitimate rape.”

In short, it’s a good time for “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler’s ever-changing 1996 collection of theatrical monologues based on interviews with many women, young and old, talking frankly about their nether regions. But then it always seems to be a good time for that play; every spring productions pop up all over the world, often as benefits for women’s shelters and the like.

The latest Marin County production is a nomadic one, because the producing company is between artistic homes at the moment. It’s also between names: the former Shakespeare at Stinson is in the course of rebranding itself as Independent Cabaret Productions. In the meantime, it’s using both monikers side by side. The show opened at Sausalito’s Stage Dor Dance Studio last weekend and will hop around to other venues such as Mill Valley’s O’Hanlon Center, Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, Bolinas Community Center, Fairfax Community Church, the Sonoma Community Center, Sweetwater Music Hall and Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center.

As directed by Hector Correa, it’s such a no-frills staging that even calling it a production seems like a misnomer; it’s more like a glorified staged reading. The actors sit on three chairs next to cloth-covered stools used as side tables. Music stands hold the scripts in front of them, and a simple black curtain hangs behind them. There’s no lighting design, just whatever’s available, and the sound system is a small portable CD player that one of the actors starts and stops on the stool beside her, playing various popular songs of female empowerment from Aretha Franklin, Cyndi Lauper, the Indigo Girls, Stevie Wonder, Nancy Sinatra, Sister Sledge and “Hair.”

Despite the rinky-dink production values, it’s an awfully entertaining show. The stories Ensler weaves together are witty, resonant and sometimes downright visceral, and they’re recounted in effervescent turns by the three-woman cast of Miyoko Sakatani, Shannon Veon Kase and AnJu, trading off on various women’s first-person stories and rapid-fire responses to questions about what their sexual organ would say if it could talk, or what it would wear if it got dressed.

“Let’s just start with the word ‘vagina,'” they say. “Doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say.” And indeed, the point of telling these stories is that a surprising number of women are uncomfortable talking about their reproductive organs or even looking at them. A lot of the first-person stories told are from the point of view of women who were either woefully ignorant of their private parts or tried to pretend they weren’t there. Some have happy endings of awakening, and others keep that door closed.

Kase is winningly animated as an elderly New Yorker who closed up shop under the waist for the rest of her life after being mortified by her own moisture while making out with a boy when she was young. She talks about “down there” as if it were a broken-down basement, “closed due to flooding.” Kase also plays an Englishwoman who belatedly learned to explore herself in a classroom setting, which she describes it in florid terms as a mystical experience. As a swaggering ex-lawyer turned dominatrix, she goes through a hilarious connoisseur’s gallery of the moans of different kinds of women.

Sakatani tells the tale of a woman who learned to appreciate her sexual organ through dating a seemingly ordinary guy who gazed adoringly at it. She also plays a boisterous woman who wants to reclaim the C-word as infinitely superior to the alternatives.

After relating a horrifically gruesome tale of Bosnian rape camps in a vague European accent, AnJu charms the crowd with the endearing story of how a young woman who’d only ever had bad experiences with her privates learned to love them when she had her first lesbian experience with an older woman — the glossed-over complicating factor being that this was while she while still underage.

Particularly entertaining are the many group sections that all three deliver together, such as a hysterical litany of cutesy euphemisms for the vagina; a rant about feminine hygiene products and an empowering manifesto of dressing however you want that’s also in Ensler’s latest piece about teenage girls around the world, “Emotional Creature,” which premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in June. The play closes with an appreciation of the wonder of childbirth, which the author added much later, realizing that aspect had been unaddressed in the play.

Because of the show’s emphasis on women learning to love their vaginas, it’s understandably low on voices from folks without severe body issues to overcome. Its mix-and-match nature leads to some awkward segues between the cheerful bits and the brutal ones, and some vagina fatigue may set in by the end of its hour and 45 minutes. But as a celebration of mentioning ladies’ unmentionables, it’s not just a force for good; it’s also a treat.

Sam Hurwitt’s theater blog, The Idiolect, is at www.theidiolect.com. Contact him at shurwitt@gmail.com or on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/shurwitt.

Here’s what other folks have to say about our last show, CABARET:

By KEN BULLOCK at the Commuter Times – “The production of Kander and Ebb’s musical, ‘Cabaret,’ now playing–appropriately enough— at the Larkspur Cabaret Theater (the old American Legion Hall across from the Lark Theatre) could be the best I’ve ever seen, out of dozens of examples. Director Hector Correa—an old trouper and showman himself—and his cast and crew get across in a more immediate way the sense of overlapping stories and songs, production numbers in the Kit-Kat Club and life in the streets and boarding houses of Weimar Republic Berlin, than any of those other, often quite fine, staging’s of this perennial favorite in my experience.”  Full Review HERE.

By ROSINE REYNOLDS at the Ark Newspaper – rreynolds@thearknewspaper.com

Larkspur Café Theatre’s new show takes place in a skewed world whose inhabitants lie, smuggle and prostitute themselves, but still celebrate the New Year.

And if some friends are becoming Nazis, well, that’s just politics.

As Fraulein Schneider says, “So vot?” We settle. We adapt. We cast off what — or who — we don’t need. And for relief, there’s always the cabaret.

Jointly produced by Independent Cabaret Productions and Shakespeare at Stinson, “Cabaret,” the 1966 hit musical, has been revived at the historic American Legion Hall in Larkspur. It’s a big show with six dancers, six actors and a four-piece band — and all are experienced close up in the Café Theatre’s small space, now transformed into a 1931 Berlin nightclub. The theatrical experience is intense.

The show’s emcee, a part originated by Joel Grey, is a key player and a mysterious figure. Is he a clown? A Greek chorus? A conscience? The emcee is played by Jeremy Vik, who wisely chose not to emulate Grey. Vik’s performance is entirely his own, but every bit as menacing.

One of his club’s entertainers, Sally Bowles (Corinne Proctor), sees herself as a star and has extravagant plans to make it big in this seedy environment. Nothing, not even the prospect of going to America with Cliff to make a new life, disturbs her fantasy.

Cliff (Ivan Hardin), an American writer, has come to Berlin to explore its underside. The character is based on the experiences and diaries of British-American author Christopher Isherwood, who went to explore the sexual possibilities there and fell in love with a German named Heinz, who was later imprisoned. “Cabaret’s” Cliff is also exploring attractions to men.

Ellen Brooks as Fraulein Schneider brings a professional voice to her character and a visual contrast to others onstage. Schneider seems normal and approachable, though she will turn out to be flawed. Her lovely duet with Malcolm Rodgers’ Schultz, “Married,” imagines a union of two old friends, a hope the audience knows is doomed when the foreboding emcee appears in the wings.

Diego Emir Garcia directs the band and proves that John Kander’s music and Fred Ebb’s lyrics are still compelling. Audiences leave “Cabaret” humming “Willkommen,” “Money” and the title song, whose heavy beat degenerates into a goose-stepping march near the end.

It’s a well-crafted production, but hard-edged, even raunchy at times. Though an intimate view of history, it’s probably not for youngsters.

Cera Byer choreographed the dance numbers. She makes good use of the small space, but arrangements and gestures become repetitious at times. Tammy Berlin’s costumes reflect the ’30s and the decadent mood of the city. Rose Ann Raphael designed the set and its glittering curtain.

“Cabaret” will be at the Larkspur Café Theatre at 500 Magnolia Ave. in Larkspur through April 15. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays, with no performance on Easter Sunday, April 8.

Tickets are $25 to $45; tables inside the theater may be reserved. To make reservations, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/228455or call the box office at 381-1638.

Rosine Reynolds, second-generation humorist and ham, has been an Ark contributor since 1996.
 Copyright © 2012 by The Ark Publishing Co., Tiburon. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.thearknewspaper.com.


By DAVID TEMPLETON – “Old Chum – Finding new angles on ‘Cabaret’ “: The uniquely structured musical follows a group of singers, writers and nightclub performers who congregate at a decadent cabaret in pre-war Berlin. Moving between outrageous musical performances in the Kit Kat Klub to sharply written scenes between singer Sally Bowles and wide-eyed newcomer Cliff, the story plays out amid the rise of Nazism in Germany.

“It’s a very tight staging of this play,” says Correa, describing his vision of the show. “So many versions are so long and rambling and unclear. I’ve found ways to keep it flowing from scene to scene without interruption, allowing the momentum of the show to build. It’s very effective.”
Read the full article here. 

By John A. McMullen II in the Theatre Preview: ” Three years ago, Shakespeare at Stimson closed. They sent a letter to their audience asking if they wanted more, and there was a resounding, “Yes!”   They have come back as Independent Cabaret Productions with Jeffrey Trotter as artistic director, and, appropriately, have opened Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret at Fort Mason in SF.  Directed by Hector Correa with choreography by Cera Byer, it stars Corinne Proctor who was a Critics’ Circle nominee for Den of Thieves at SF Playhouse and Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at East Bay’s Pinole Community Players.”

“Cabaret is about life in ‘decadent’ Berlin just as Hitler was coming to power. It’s centered in a lurid cabaret/prostitution nightspot called the Kit Kat Club. Well known songs are “Maybe This Time,” “Life is a Cabaret,” “Mein Herr,” and “Don’t Tell Mama.”  ”
Read the full review here. 

Jim Strope on examiner.com: “Corinne Procter steals the show at Independent Cabaret Productions’ Cabaret at Fort Mason center in San Francisco. As Sally Bowles, she is caught between that shrinking, angst-ridden space between stardom, love, war, and peace and decides to make the best of her shrinking world. Jeremy Vik plays the master of ceremonies with the wickedness that underlies the superficial gaiety of the script.”
Read the full review here.

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