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Show breaks the silence on a long-taboo subject.

Byline: FRED CRAFTS The Register-Guard

ASK PLAYWRIGHT Eve Ensler how she came up with the attention-grabbing title "The Vagina Monologues" and she has a "duh" answer:

"It's about vaginas," Ensler fairly shouts over the phone from her office in New York City. She speaks fast and laughs easily, as if everything in this conversation tickles her.

"I didn't want to be dishonest," she says, settling down, "and I didn't want to trick people, and I wanted people to choose to come and see it. Rather than pretending it's about something it's not, it seemed the right thing to do."

Every now and then, though, the title "The Vagina Monologues" ruffles feathers, as it has recently in Eugene. Some callers to the Hult Center have complained they were offended to encounter the words in huge letters on a billboard advertising the show.

Ensler offers a rebuttal:

"I'm always surprised when people are offended by the word `vagina.' I mean, if you look at the newspapers, they use `anthrax,' `SCUD missiles' and `nuclear war' on the front page every day. No one seems offended by those words. And I think they're incredibly offensive words and incredibly offensive ideas.

`You say the word `vagina' and people go crazy. I don't understand it. It's a body part. We come from there. It's beautiful.

"I think people really need to examine why they are upset by the word `vagina.' '

Written in 1996 as a one-woman show that Ensler herself performed, "The Vagina Monologues" is a series of stories told by women she interviewed. The notion came up, she says, while talking to a woman about menopause. From there, the stories flowed.

"They wrote me," she says with a laugh. "They just kind of got a life of their own, which I have been servicing ever since - trying to keep up with them, to be honest."

Ensler's expectations at first were minimal: `just surviving saying it out loud.' Then, as her off-Broadway show grew in popularity, it began to be talked about outside New York City.

The play won a 1997 Obie Award and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. The rest is history.

"The Vagina Monologues" became a worldwide phenomenon. Ensler has toured it throughout this country and overseas. Portions of the ticket sales were donated to V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. Sometimes, it was presented for free.

"We've basically spawned a worldwide movement,' Ensler says proudly. `We've opened safe houses in Africa. We've opened the first crisis house in the Balkans to stop rape. We've kept the national hot line for domestic battery alive this year.

`We will have given away by the end of this year probably close to $13 million all around the world - in small communities, everywhere - to stop rape, battery, incest, genital mutilation and sexual slavery. There were 800 performances that people got for free of `The Vagina Monologues' around the world so people could raise consciousnesses and money in their own communities.

"It's thrilling. It's really, really thrilling."

As the requests for Ensler's time increased, she entrusted the show to others. The touring company that will present it at the Hult Center beginning Tuesday includes two regulars, Geneva Carr and Lisa Tharps, and a Eugene woman added for local flavor, KDUK-FM radio morning personality Valerie Steele.

Carr has performed with Playwrights Horizons, Ensemble Studio Theatre, All Seasons Theater Group, Naked Angles and Miranda Theatre. She has appeared on "Sex and the City," "Spin City," `Talk to Me" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."

Tharps has performed at Virginia Theatre, Union Square, Public Theatre, Guthrie Lab and Barbican Centre. She has appeared on "Law and Order" and "Third Watch."

A life of its own

More than a play now, "The Vagina Monologues" has become such a part of the national conversation that it has been mentioned on such TV shows as "Will & Grace," "Ally McBeal," "Sex and the City," "Dharma and Greg" and "Saturday Night Live."

Not only has "The Vagina Monologues" done well, it has done good. It's the fuel that propels a global fund-raising machine that intends to end violence against women.

"I'm shooting for 2005," Ensler says, `even though I know it's a little over the top. But why not?"

She picked that date "because I want it to end. I'm sick of it. We're living in this crazy world engineered by maniacal men who are so testosteronially driven. It's madness.

`They don't want to be behaving like this either; I just think they're out of control. And I think we really need to change the paradigm - reinvent the whole trajectory of what we're doing here - or I don't think we're all going to be here much longer."

The effort, Ensler says, is "moving along nicely."

"I've just come back from 20 cities where I saw 2,000 women in Guatemala, 6,000 women in the Philippines, 4,000 women at the Royal Albert Hall in London, 3,000 women at Caesar's Palace in South Africa and 500 women in Mexico City. All those women were taking back their vaginas - taking back their power, taking back their hearts, taking back their pleasure.

`I think we're going to be in double or triple that many places next year."

Ensler somehow has found time to keep writing. Her latest play, "Necessary Targets," is enjoying a good run in New York City. Set in a Bosnian refugee camp, it shares some of the concerns of "The Vagina Monologues."

Ensler says the success of "The Vagina Monologues" has given her more confidence as a writer. "It's really pushed me to go deeper, to go farther out, to try more things."

Right now, Ensler is writing a play called "The Good Body," which is "based on women all around the world, on how they shape, fix, hide, bury their bodies in order to fit in within their particular cultures."

Sound familiar?


WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 5

WHERE: Soreng Theatre, Hult Center, Seventh and Willamette streets

HOW MUCH: $35 to $40 through the Hult Center box office, 682-5000


Eve Ensler's play is now a leading fund-raiser in combating violence against women.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 28, 2002
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