It was a night of inspiration where one minute everyone in the audience was laughing uproariously, followed by a breath-holding silence so voluminous and fragile it would take only the slightest prick of a pin to rip it apart.
The event was a reading of the acclaimed episodic play The Vagina Monologues at the Alix Goolden Hall. But what made it truly unique was that several of the performers were either former or active sex workers in Victoria.
Organized by PEERS — a non-profit society established by former sex workers and community members — the choice of presenters added some serious weight to each monologue’s words. For while the overall theme is empowerment for women to embrace their womanhood, it is also a tragic tale woven with threads of abuse and neglect.
For every laugh — and there were lots of them — there were also tears.
For laughs, it was impossible to keep a straight face when Isha Matous-Gibbs went through a series of vocal gymnastics in her reading of The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy, in which a sex worker discusses the intriguing details of her career and her love of giving women pleasure. Her vocal demonstration of each type of orgasm built to a crescendo, culminating in a roof-raising “triple orgasm.”
The tears and moments of pause were common as what first appeared to be a gentle tale turned dark, such as The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could — in which a woman recalls memories of traumatic abuse in her childhood and a self-described “positive healing” sexual experience in her adolescent years with an older woman — read with such feeling by Gioia Evers.
Or when Whitney Archer quietly read the heart-breaking My Vagina Was My Village, a monologue compiled from the testimonies of Bosnian women subjected to rape camps.
The hardest hitting piece of the evening, Memory of Her Face, was dedicated to Carrie Martins, a woman of PEERS who tragically took her own life recently. This monologue about a woman who was beaten and tortured by her husband was read with such impassioned fury by
Marcela Mrnka that it sunk deep into our souls.
Mrnka made it feel personal. This was no longer a stranger in a long-running play; it was someone we should have known; someone we passed on the street every day; someone whose bruises and distant gaze we tried to ignore.
It was impossible not to cringe as her character recounted the sequence of events each time she was beaten by her husband, including having her head smashed with a pot, being beaten with fists and having a jar of acid thrown on her face, burning off the skin.
It was both powerful and moving and struck a chord with the mostly-female audience. The men in attendance could be counted on the fingers of two hands, which is a pity. I’m sure the title makes it easy for men to dismiss the play as “women stuff” but its subject matter is meant for everyone.
V-Day is an activist movement to stop violence against women and girls, but to do that we need to get more men to open their eyes. When the play returns next year, the challenge will be for every woman in attendance to drag a man along with her.
The message is pure. Let’s spread the word.
Song stuck in my head
“Rise To Me” by The Decemberists.
This indie folk rock band from Portland deliver a soothing, sing-along experience with their sixth album The King is Dead with songs that range from upbeat, almost-R.E.M. pop to lush, bluegrassy folk ballads. M