NCJW presents ‘Vagina Monologues’ at COCA

The Vagina Monologues, an Obie Award winning episodic play written by Eve Ensler, was first produced off-Broadway in 1996. The production has since been staged internationally and produced by cable TV channel HBO as well as in major cities across the United States including St. Louis. However, it has never — repeat never — been experienced as it will be done here on Saturday night, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at COCA, 524 Trinity when the National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis Section presents the play featuring 29 extraordinary local women. This will be a one-night benefit performance to raise funds to support NCJW-St. Louis Section’s programs to stop violence against women and girls and to help women, children and families in our community. Funds will also go to VDay to help eliminate violence against women worldwide.

Originally The Vagina Monologues starred Eve Ensler playing all the various women who shared their views about their vaginas with the audience. When she left the play it was cast with three celebrity monologists and later with stars like Whoopi Goldberg and Melissa Etheridge. The Vagina Monologues is made up of a varying number of monologues read by a varying number of women, specifically 29 in St. Louis. Every monologue somehow relates to the vagina, be it through sex, love, rape, menstruation, mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, the variety of names for the vagina, or simply the physical aspect of the female body. A recurring theme throughout the piece is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment and the ultimate embodiment of individuality. The goal and thrust of the play is to end violence against women and girls.

Here in St. Louis the 29 monologues will be performed by 29 very special, hand picked women — Asian- American, Latino, African-American, Caucasian and Jewish. Stellie Siteman, the play’s director and herself an outstanding actress, told me, “The issue of violence transcends race and class. I have assembled a diverse cast who bring humor, honesty and simplicity to Eve Ensler’s poetic words. We have older women, young women, married women, single and lesbian women, who represent all walks of life.” Among the cast members are attorneys Mavis Thompson, Susan Block and Amy Kuo Hammerman; jewelry designer Diane Katzman; singer Suzie Broddon; psychologists Helen Friedman and Nanci Bobrow; stand-up comic Phyllis Shulman; corporate officers June Fowler and Karen Drake; authors Susan Fadem and Ann Lemons Pollack; and community leaders like the remarkable Karen Kalish, NCJW President Nancy Berg, Jewish federation’s director of communications Debbie Warshawski, Junior Leaguer Claire Devoto, Charmaine Smith of Discovering Options and Chris Chadwick of Focus St. Louis. They are, says Director Siteman “…all movers and shakers in their professions and are giving back to their community through volunteer leadership and service.”

The Vagina Monologue’s script was granted to NCJW by VDay – V standing for Valentine…Victory…Vagina. VDay is a global movement to end violence against women and girls. The play is the cornerstone of the movement whose participants stage benefit performances of the show worldwide each year between Feb. 1 and March 8. “I think it is important to let men and women know, Lois, that the VDay 2008 script is different than people may have seen previously and that men will enjoy the show,” said Stellie. Ensler updates her script with new monologues keeping its content very current. For example in 2003 she added one on the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule and named it “Under the Burqa”. Her latest monologue highlights the women of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Her personal letter inviting the audience — men and women — to VDay’s 10th anniversary celebration in New Orleans will be read at the event. This piece reflects how VDay hopes to continue to change the story of women.

NCJW-St. Louis Section is a volunteer organization, inspired by Jewish values, that works through a program of education, advocacy and community service to improve the quality of life for women, children and families. Sponsoring the benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues is a natural for the organization which is raising these funds to support NCJW’s programs to stop violence against women and girls and to help women, children and families in our community.

Funds will also go to VDay to help eliminate violence against women worldwide. Tickets for reserved seats for the performance start at $50 and go to $1,000 with each category offering different benefits. For instance, at $150 per ticket you will get your name in the Playbill Program, a good reserved seat and an invitation to the dessert reception.

To reserve your place send your check payable to NCJW-St. Louis Section to NCJW, 8350 Delcrest Drive, St. Louis MO 63124 or for more information call 314-993-5181.