Pair of Eve Ensler projects produced for V-Day

Mike Easterling
measterling@daily-times.com
Annette DiGiacomo performs her scene from "The Vagina Monologues" during a Jan. 30 rehearsal at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Farmington.

FARMINGTON – Annette DiGiacomo saw her first production of the “The Vagina Monologues” when she was in high school. She was so intrigued with it, she knew immediately she wanted to take part in a production of it herself some day.

Last year, after a friend sent her an email suggesting she get involved, DiGiacomo finally got her chance to do that when she became one of the actors who participated in the annual local production of the famous Eve Ensler-penned play. And she’s doubling down this year, serving as a member of the cast again while also organizing the local production, which opens this weekend.

Lindzie Gunnink, left, and Erica Love receive direction from director Janie Felix Jan. 30 during a rehearsal for "The Vagina Monologues" at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Farmington.

DiGiacomo remembers feeling more than a little uncomfortable the first time she saw the play, which is well known for its graphic descriptions and blunt language. As its title implies, “The Vagina Monologues” is hardly a traditional play — it is structured as a series of monologues read by women and addressing subjects ranging from female anatomy, sex and birth to sexual violence and female genital mutilation.

Parts of it are very dark. Parts of it are very funny. Much of its subject matter is still considered taboo in many circles, and the play largely is designed to make the audience acknowledge and confront its own discomfort when it comes to such issues, beginning with the title itself.

DiGiacomo said she was shocked when she saw “The Vagina Monologues” for the first time during her high school years. But she quickly got over it.

“I’m Italian, and I’m sassy and it was definitely my kind of thing,” she said, laughing.

DiGiacomo has embraced the play, going so far as to describe it as a family tradition of sorts. Last year, she joined her mother, Karen DiGiacomo, who was performing in the play. This year, her 15-year-old stepdaughter and 8-year-old daughter will join the cast, as well.

DiGiacomo said her stepdaughter, Lindzie Gunnink, is a theater student in school and was interested in taking part this year, though she was a little apprehensive about the material. But as the weeks of rehearsal have gone by, DiGiacomo said the teen has warmed to the challenge, taking on a bigger part than she originally had planned. Meanwhile, DiGiacomo’s daughter, Ahlula DiGiacomo, will appear onstage in a monologue with her sister.

The experience for the three generations of females has been a very positive one, DiGiacomo said.

“It’s something fun we get to do together,” she said. “It’s something we can bond over, which is especially valuable when you’re talking about a 15-year-old stepdaughter and such a tender subject. And watching my 8-year-old daughter blossom and have some stage presence is awesome. It’s a very ‘proud mommy’ moment.”

Director Janie Felix talks to a cast member Jan. 30 during rehearsal for "The Vagina Monologues" at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Farmington.

DiGiacomo said she didn’t get to know the production’s director, Janie Felix, during last year’s experience, but the two have grown very close this year. DiGiacomo says she has come to regard Felix as a second mother. The building of such relationships is perhaps the best part of participating in the local production of “The Vagina Monologues” each year, Felix said.

“The biggest thing for me is the sisterhood, the camaraderie … ,” Felix said, adding that it is also a meaningful experience for her because many of her friends have been victims of molestation, sexual violence or domestic violence. “Most of us are very aware of what the statistics are for our area. New Mexico has a very high rate.”

The local production of “The Vagina Monologues” will be followed later in February by a production of readings from the Ensler-edited compilation “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer.” The production is structured in much the same way as “TVM” and addresses many of the same themes. Both are produced by thousands of local groups all over the world in February each year as part of V-Day activities, which are events designed to raise awareness about female victims of violence and sexual abuse. The money raised from the productions goes to support groups that work on behalf of those victims.

Erica Love recites her monologue on Jan. 30 during a rehearsal for "The Vagina Monologues" at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Farmington.

In the case of the local production, Felix said 45 percent of the proceeds will go to Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico and 45 percent will go to New Beginnings, while 10 percent will leave the area and go to national efforts.

Felix said this is the eighth year “TVM” has been produced locally, but it’s been four or five years since “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer” — or “MMRP,” as it is affectionately known to those in the production — has been presented here. She noted that it includes writings by men such as Edward Albee, Howard Zinn and Dave Eggers, and that affords men the chance to take part in the local V-Day activities.

“I think it’s very important because, to me, it says this is not just a female issue, but a male issue,” Felix said, noting that the number of men who have attended local V-day productions over the years has increased noticeably.

“MMRP” also includes writings by Jane Fonda, Maya Angelou and Ensler, in addition to various other women. And, like “TVM,” its themes range from very dark to very funny, though they can be equally moving. Felix said both productions are structured to be flexible for local groups, and that helps them keep their individual productions fresh, rather than simply recycling the same material each year.

Ensler writes new dialog for “TVM” annually, and local groups licensed to produce “TVM” and “MMRP” have the options of choosing among the monologues or readings included in both and performing a minimum number. That allows cast members to explore different parts each year and prevents the productions from growing stale, Felix said. She noted organizers of the local productions also have made an effort to choose a balance between light and dark material.

Stephanie Bushman, left, and Krista Robbins rehearse their scene from "The Vagina Monologues" Jan. 30 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Farmington.

The cast for the two productions also includes Karen Morrison, Casey Morphis, Rachel Duggins, Stephanie Poafpybitty, Jody LaRue, Junior Jackson, Stephanie Bushman, Erica Love, Alise Rodney, Krista “Red” Robbins, Kayleigh Steinbach, Candy Blasingame,  BJ Nelson, Mark Lewis and Mike Grinnell. The crew includes Hails Bassing, Mackenzie Tharrington and Nikki Nicholls.

Ensler has written a monologue for “TVM” that is geared for a transgender performer, and Felix said she approached a number of local transgender individuals about appearing in last year’s production. She was disappointed that none felt comfortable doing so, but she has invited them to the production and holds out hope that that monologue can be added in the future.

Felix has taken part in every local production of “TVM” since that first year, and while she is pleased with the amount of money and the awareness the event has raised over the years, she said she has a hard time understanding why so many local residents still recoil from the word vagina. DiGiacomo recounted how some local businesses have declined to display a flier for the production because of the word’s presence in the title, and Felix said a local doctor who had expressed interest in serving as a cast member this year retreated after reading the script.

“You are doctors,” she said, exasperated. “How can you not say the word vagina?”

DiGiacomo said having her stepdaughter and daughter become comfortable with the language used in “TVM” and the subjects it addresses is important to her. She said her husband was among those who initially had issues with that nomenclature, but he was forced to adapt when DiGiacomo started scheduling rehearsals at their house.

“He travels a lot, and when he calls home now, I say, ‘I’ve got a bunch of vaginas in the house. Can I call you later? I love you. Bye,’” she said, laughing.

DiGiacomo wants her daughters to come away from the experience of performing in “TVM” with a clear message.

“… Having a vagina is not a bad thing,” she said. “And if something bad happens to you, it’s OK to talk about it. It does not make you a victim. It makes you empowered. It’s so important to me for my girls to understand that.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

 

Krista Robbins rehearses her scene from "The Vagina Monologues" Jan. 30 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Farmington.

If you go

What: “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5 and Friday, Feb. 12

Where: The Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.

Admission: $10

______________

What: “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer,” edited by Eve Ensler

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20 and Saturday, Feb. 27

Where: The Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.

Admission: $10

For more information: Call 505-360-0569