Vagina monologuers embrace the taboo

By Becky Reiser

‘Hey, vagina!’ ‘It’s a compliment,’ said Lara Appelbaum, co-director for Pitt’s cast of ‘The… ‘Hey, vagina!’ ‘It’s a compliment,’ said Lara Appelbaum, co-director for Pitt’s cast of ‘The Vagina Monologues.’ The greeting is completely normal for the cast, who performed the nationally acclaimed production three times in David Lawrence Hall last week. Pitt students put on the production each year in conjunction with Valentine’s Day and V-Day, a national movement to end violence against women. ‘The Vagina Monologues’ aims to raise awareness of the violence against women worldwide ‘mdash; including rape and female mutilation, issues discussed in the play. The colloquialism of the word ‘vagina’ is one of the goals of Eve Ensler’s play, performed across the country in various venues, especially on college campuses. ‘We used to not say it, now we embrace it,’ said sophomore Iva Drasinover, a new cast member. The search for the 21 necessary actresses started before winter break with fliers and Facebook group advertisements. After break, the actresses held about seven Friday rehearsals. Drasinover said that despite her friend’s complaints, she didn’t mind the odd rehearsal time. ‘It’s been awesome,’ she said. ‘We make new friends and tighten bonds.’ Drasinover also said she never saw cohesion within a cast before. She has always had an interest in the legacy of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and just ‘gravitated’ toward the auditions. But with little theater experience, monologues can be tricky. ‘We feed off others’ energy,’ she said, adding that her monologue must be done with a Long Island Jewish accent. This adds another level to the performance. ‘I don’t want to focus on the accent, it’s a balance with tragedy and comedy,’ said Drasinover. Allegra Cafarchio, a ‘Vagina virgin,’ had never seen the monologues when she decided to audition. Her roommate, co-director Nina Siviy encouraged her to try out. Cafarchio is an ‘intro woman,’ which means she gives the introduction to monologues and the ‘happy vagina fact’ between performers. Pitt’s a cappella group, Sounds of Pleasure, performed on the Thursday opening night. The all-female group fit in with the theme of the evening. Friday evening’s opening act was Black Dance Workshop, and Saturday’s audience saw Pitt Pendulums, a mixed gender a cappella group. Each year the opening acts differ, and so do the monologues. A change for this year’s ‘Vagina Monologues’ was the inclusion of two new pieces ‘mdash; ‘Under the Burka” and a piece honoring female victims of Hurricane Katrina. Audience members who have seen the show at Pitt before noticed another change as well. Pitt student Tamar Toledano, an experienced member of the cast, said that this year the directors decided to include a set. ‘They decided to obscure others behind a sheet, so you can just see silhouettes … it’s an interesting change,’ said Toldeano, who plays the part of the woman from Pittsburgh who decided to bring back the word ‘c**t.’ Reactions to the performances were positive all around, if not surprising. Audience member Olga Goncharenko said, ‘It was my first time going. I really wasn’t expecting it to be what it was … I didn’t know what to expect. It was funny but at the same time made you aware.’ Nee Taylor echoed her sentiment. Along with raising awareness, the Campus Women’s Organization, which hosted’ ‘The Vagina Monologues’ at Pitt, also raises money. The organization donates 90 percent of the proceeds to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and 10 percent goes to the 2009 spotlight. Women of the Democratic Republic of Congo will benefit from the funds this year, said Appelbaum.