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Pussy Power 

Women find their voice through genitalia in Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues.

Eve Ensler, the brains behind the bushes.
  • Eve Ensler, the brains behind the bushes.

Twin threats have sent a shiver down the spines of Cleveland's testosterone-spewing male population of late. First, there was the banning of booze at Browns tailgate parties, stripping men of their means of Sunday-morning worship. Then there's the latest go-round of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, at the Ohio Theatre. The work is the theatrical distillation of more than 200 interviews Ensler conducted with loquacious females about the wonders of their genitalia -- the fruit of their wombs, so to speak.

The shrewd Ensler culled the best of her interviews and soon found herself performing one-night stands in feminist theaters and emporiums, promoting female self-discovery by holding a gynecological mirror up to her sisters' privates. Treating vaginas with the same awe that Marilyn Monroe reserved for diamonds, she expertly related recollections of grannies having their first self-administered orgasms in the bathtub, of prepubescent girls naming their pudenda like pets.

Ensler's opus became a bandwagon for actresses of every ilk to straddle. Retired Vegas strippers found themselves imitating angry vaginas in search of comfortable undies. Ex-Lady Macbeths elicited tears as raped Bosnian peasant women. Former Brady Bunchers filled civic centers, bragging that their clitorises had 8,000 nerve fibers primed for pleasure.

The Playhouse Square production is made profoundly intimate and moving by Abby Epstein's superbly nuanced direction. The camaraderie among its cast radiates such warmth that it's almost impossible to tell whether their sorority-girl intimacy is real or feigned. The monologues are divided between the three actresses by archetype: Starla Benford brings tang to the wise Faulknerian earth mothers; Kristen Lee Kelly concentrates on the porcelain debutantes, shocked and delighted to find their inner flame; and, best of all, the shockingly underrated Margot Kidder (since replaced by WCPN's Dee Perry) entranced audiences with her Lauren Bacall spank-me sensuality as the sassy tomboy. If Kidder ever decides to forgo faking female orgasms for a part worthy of her magnetism, she could be the next great Blanche DuBois.

There is a dangerous side to this piece of exquisitely delivered female self-aggrandizement. The audience (which sways 90 percent to the distaff side), intoxicated by the solidarity, soon takes on the aura of Dionysian bacchantes. By the time they're urged to chant "cunt" as a cry of liberation, the women look primed to stick their fingernails into the nearest masculine throat. Men raised on the nuances of Greek tragedy will know why it would be fatal to bring their mothers to this feminist camp meeting.


The Liminis, an oddly christened new theater in Ohio City, arrogantly proclaims itself an antidote to the "comfort food that makes up Cleveland theater." That slogan blissfully forgets all the years that a multitude of theaters, from Cleveland Public Theatre to the late, lamented Working Theater, have trod the avant-garde path.

The theater's first production is Doug Wright's Quills, which is in the wack, sadomasochistic biographical tradition of those Ken Russell film epics of the '70s. The formula takes a notorious departed artist -- in this case, the Marquis de Sade -- and dramatizes, as a cry of freedom, the monsters that inhabit his libido. Then it mixes in yards of purple dialogue and smoky Catholic imagery.

Act I features Clyde Simon's Marquis on a swing -- posed like a generic cupid and looking like a debased owl -- dispensing recitations of his priapic odes in a mental asylum. Surrounding him are pouting administrators, horrified clergy, a wife weeping over her lost social possibilities, a laundress who blossoms with delight, and inmates who dress up as monks and chant in Latin.

Act II finds the Marquis disrobed (to the audience's shock), gradually stripped of his quills, fingers, toes, and penis. What makes this play so audacious and enjoyable is the way it twists morality like a pretzel, making church and government reek like old garbage, and turning a pornographer even more perverted than Jackie Collins into a lovable, oversexed free spirit.

The production shares the failings of most nascent companies: effect for effect's sake, lack of style or consistency, and --except for Simon's joyfully twisted Peter Pan of a Marquis -- a cast that exhaustively keeps hitting the same shrill note. Yet there is an energy and earnestness, an innocence that gives the show the feel of a Disney porno.

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More by Keith A. Joseph

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