By: Stephanie Jade
Eve Ensler’s award-winning off-Broadway play, The Vagina Monologues, was presented by the new local theatre company Zebra Crossing as their inaugural production between 1-13 October 2008 at the Drama Centre Theatre. Advertised as “The Year’s Sexiest Play”, the R-18 production incorporated many local references to the originally American play.
The Vagina Monologues consists of a few short monologues read by different numbers of women (Eve Ensler read all the monologues herself in the original version). Each monologue discusses the story of its ‘owner’ including the vagina as part of female identity, its physical appearance, love, rape, sexuality, and domestic violence.
This local vistation of The Vagina Monologues was directed by Loretta Chen, who also directed 251 and Magicbox. Among the stories told are of a woman who couldn’t say the word ‘Vagina’ (she makes a ‘V’ gesture with her fingers instead) but learned how to love her vagina, a know-thy-vagina camp led by a cartoonish French accented sergeant, a transsexual looking for acceptance by her family, and drunken housewives telling stories of abuse by their husbands.
I applaud their effort to localise most of the content by referencing to local heritage. The play opened with an introduction by the cast followed by a monologue by an Indian woman talking about the importance of pubic hair. The lady who couldn’t say ‘Vagina’ was in a traditional Chinese setting. An interview with Singaporean mothers was also shown. To emphasise the local flavor, they also threw in a mix of local phrases in Hokkien, Malay, Singlish, and Tamil that drew laughter from the audience every time. In a way, it made the play quite like high-school theatre, but it seemed like local curses or exclamations is one of the best ways to entertain Singaporean film and theatre-goers. I can say they did do their homework in incorporating a local feel into the play to make it easier for the audience to relate to the stories, but I still think that some parts seemed a little too foreign, like the names, places, habits, and mannerisms (Running away to San Fransisco? Cutting of your husband’s braids? Yes. Braids).
To add some spice (and maybe entertain the reluctant husbands/boyfriends dragged by their wives/girlfriends) there was even a number by a pole-dancer who showed off quite a bit of her skills. It left me questioning “What was that for?“, but now my boyfriend wants to know where she performs regularly. I also expected the dominatrix in one of the monologues to show up in a tight leather suit, stiletto boots, a whip in one hand and a dildo in the other, but I was disappointed when she showed up in a military-style black trench coat instead.
I did cringe badly once during the show. There was a monologue about menstruation where the actresses in school uniforms were acting as teenage girls who talked about their first period while giggling and running around the first few rows of audience and showering them with tampons and sanitary pads. Then one of them took a huge bottle of Vagisil (the production’s main sponsor) and announced, “I WANTED TO USE VAGISIL!” followed by some corporate advertising catchphrase, echoed by the other girls. Cringe.
Despite all this, it was entertaining and well worth a watch on a weekend. Many scenes are genuinely touching and funny and do work most of the time. The monologues may be somewhat controversial nonetheless, for the regular conservative Singaporean. But all in all a commendable effort by Zebra Crossing.