The woman to my right laughed loudest at the tirade against thong underwear. On my left, my wife's most boisterous laughs came during the demonstration of various "erotic" moans. The women on the aisle in front of me howled during the jokes about gynecological exams.
I was clearly in the sexual minority at a recent performance of The Vagina Monologues. I enjoyed the experience.
Men are used to being on top in the ongoing battle of the sexes. Sitting in the audience for The Vagina Monologues, I received an overdue taste of life at the bottom of the gender ladder. Playwright Eve Ensler's production creates a special space solely for women, and that's a good thing.
The Vagina Monologues, playing at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater, is intentionally stark. Three tall chairs are placed alongside tables and floor-standing microphones.
A dark red carpet covers the stage. The three monologists — Geneva Carr, Lisa Tharps and local actress Dale Hodges — dangle their bare feet from the chairs. Each sports a flash of red in her wardrobe. Overhead lights separate them from the surrounding darkness. They're completely in synch with their surroundings.
I can't speak for other men in the audience. In fact, I'm not convinced that our male opinion about the play really matters (a review by four males). Like I said, The Vagina Monologues is something especially reserved for women.
Still, watching this piece alongside my wife, I felt as if I'd been momentarily invited into a woman's safe haven. I laughed at the various jokes and cringed during the stories of rape and vaginal mutilation. Still, watching the play, I always thought of myself as a guest. I felt welcomed, but I also considered myself privileged to be there.
One monologue recounts a woman's experiences at a vagina workshop. Another tells the story of a woman in Pittsburgh who reclaims the vulgar word "cunt" as something positive and pro-woman.
"Cunt!," Tharps screams, filling the theater with her booming voice. "Say it with me!" At that moment, when the entire audience responded with equal volume, Cincinnati grew a little older, wiser and more mature.
"Bravo, Lisa," Hodges said, turning to her on-stage colleague. "And bravo Cincinnati."
A Broadway smash like the Mel Brooks' musical The Producers has the ability to transform New York City. Here in Cincinnati, the 18-day stop of The Vagina Monologues has people equally excited. It's the one thing I've been hearing about on a regular basis.
Tucked inside the Aronoff's mid-sized hall, The Vagina Monologues isn't about to generate tourism revenue of Producers-like proportions. The impact I'm talking about has nothing to do with dollars and cents — its effect is social in nature.
I've called Cincinnati home for approximately 13 years, and I don't ever remember hearing the word "vagina" uttered in a public space. I like the idea of driving past a large billboard with the word spread across its blank canvas. I especially liked the near-capacity crowd that filled Jarson-Kaplan on a wintry Sunday evening. They were excited on their way into the theater. They were even more excited on their way out.
The Vagina Monologues has been a New York hit since its 1997 debut. It's traveled across the world and has been broadcast on cable TV. Still, I was surprised when it came to Cincinnati. For those self-appointed censors who think local audiences can't handle adult and erotic material, I know an enthusiastic Vagina Monologues audience that feels differently.
Granted, Cincinnati still has plenty of room to grow. Someday soon, maybe the city's morning newspaper will even print the word "vagina" in a story other than a review of this play.
On a night when a few inches of snowfall covered the city streets, Cincinnati moved forward a few inches socially. Our conservative Midwestern city has done itself proud.
As Dale Hodges said, "Bravo!" ©