Janine Ybanez
Janine Ybanez

The word “vagina” makes a lot of people unduly uncomfortable. Despite the fact that it is merely a word designed to describe part of the female reproductive system, it tends to carry a negative connotation in the common lexicon. So when master of ceremonies Sarah Doyle had the gathered crowd repeat the word “vagina” three times at full volume in HUB 302 Wednesday night, I knew the Vagina Monologues would be a performance unlike any I had seen before. The performance, starring UCR students and organized by the Women’s Resource Center, was a night of laughter, reflection and celebration.

The first performance, “We Were Worried,” started the night on a humorous note, as the three performers listed several colorful euphemisms for vagina, ranging from coochie to snizz, and everything in between. Much of the crowd laughed at full force, while others tittered nervously as they adjusted to the emphatic force of the performers’ words. “We Were Worried” established that the performances would not pull any punches: It would be frank, unapologetic and would not hide behind childish euphemisms. If the performers were worried before the performance began, they certainly weren’t once they got started.

The humor continued with the performance of “The Flood,” which recounts an interview with a 72-year-old woman about her vagina, referring to it as a “cellar.” Alison Moore and her convincing Brooklyn accent channeled the woman’s words, as she nervously recounted her trepidation concerning her own sexuality. The woman recounts a time when, after becoming aroused, she stained the seats of her date’s Chevrolet Bel Air with her “flood,” causing her to recoil from her own sexuality. While undoubtedly funny, the performance painted a much darker picture below the surface, as women throughout Western history have been taught to shy away from their own sexuality.

“The Flood” set the stage for the monologues “The Vagina Workshop” and “Because He Liked to Look at It,” in which female sexuality is explored in a healthy and positive light. The central characters of both monologues have a sort of sexual, self-empowered awakening, and by celebrating their vaginas they create a more positive outlook for female liberation. This is further explored in “Beat the Girl,” which examines the struggles transgender women go through in past and modern society. “They tried to beat the girl out of me,” stated the three performers in unison, as they took turns describing the humiliation and ostracization transgender women suffer every day. However, the performance did not end on a somber tone, as the subjects of the monologue are able to fully become themselves after completing their transition.

After the positivity and hope that dominated much of the first act, the second act instantly took a much darker tone, with the centerpiece performance of “My Vagina Was My Village,” performed by Marcy Gonzalez and Sandra Nunez. Standing nearly back-to-back, the two juxtaposed words, with one performer describing happy memories and speaking about her vagina in a positive way, while the other recounts a savage rape endured at the hands of soldiers during the Balkan Wars. The sense of innocent wonder recounted by one performer was intercut by the graphic, realistic portrayal of what countless women in Kosovo and Bosnia endured, the two speakers creating a dichromatic chorus. The room was breathless, silent and still, as everyone in the audience shared in the burden the performers described. The words were so raw and real that after the monologue was concluded the audience seemed almost unable to clap, digesting the horrors the two had conjured.

Things did brighten up, however, with the two most well-received performances of the evening “Reclaiming Cunt” and “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy.” During “Reclaiming Cunt,” Alana Anguren examined the pejorative, excitedly proclaiming “cunt” at full volume before lapsing into a frenetic examination of every individual sound that makes up the word. She arrayed the “C-uh” sound of the first letter with a cataclysm of other, positive c-words, continuing her performance and pattern with every other individual sound. Astounded by the sheer volume and energy of her performance, the audience couldn’t help but burst into raucous applause.

“The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” recounted the tales of a female sex worker and her fascination with feminine moans. The performance soon broke from a humorous anecdote to a mixture of performance art and vocal exercise, as Priscilla Melo acted out a series of ridiculous cries, ranging from the repentant “Catholic Moan” to the musical “Beyonce Moan,” capping off her performance by repeating all of them in rapid-fire succession, ending her performance with an emphatic “ohhh shit!” We were all in stitches.

The Vagina Monologues ended with “I Was There in the Room,” which provides a first-person account of witnessing childbirth. Performed by first-timer Daisy Jimenez, the monologue recounted the miracle of life in simple, frank words. “The heart is capable of sacrifice, so is the vagina,” she stated, adding that it “bleeds us all into this world.” “I Was There in the Room” served as a perfect closer to a night of impeccable performances, as it reminded us all that vaginas are not something to be hated or feared, as they are the doorways we enter the world from. There couldn’t have been a more fitting ending.

After the requisite bows and words of gratitude to the performers and audience that conclude every performance, replete with thunderous applause from the audience, I saw Romanie Arterberry, director of the Women’s Resource Center and who organized the performance, sitting at the back of the room with a look of well-deserved satisfaction on her face. I took the time to congratulate her on the performance, and she described her passion for putting on the performance every year. I noticed, as we talked, that she personally congratulated each and every performer that walked by her on their way out of the room. It’s no secret why the performance went so well.