Eve Ensler’s «The Vagina Monologues» celebrated its Basel premiere last weekend with a sold-out and striking performance. A crucial piece of theatre that will hopefully be back on local stages soon.
By Daniel Lüthi
It is easier than ever to be a cynic today. Catchwords such as «Brexit», «America First» or «Alternative Facts» ensure lasting confusion and uncertainty as well as the subtle feeling that the world (or at least humanity) has gone crazy. A recurring topic in this mixture of media chaos and extremism is the history of genders. Suppressed, deified, cursed – the role of women in a male-dominated society is very variable, ranging from good housewife to femme fatale.
Last weekend’s performance of «The Vagina Monologues» in the Unternehmen Mitte in Basel proved that feminism is more important than ever before and should be equally valid for all genders. The venue was perfect: diverse sets of families let their children run or crawl freely through the former bank hall while groups, couples or singles with laptops were sitting in between. Individual differences, one could think, are not that important there – no matter whether you are a man or a woman, elderly or millennial.
Further back in the café hall, a winding stair leads down to the «Safe» – literally, as this is where the valuables and gold of the Schweizerische Nationalbank were stored back in the bank days. A slight feeling of claustrophobia arose when each of the merely 50 seats in the bunker was occupied by an audience member. In this small space, after its world premiere in 1996 and numerous prices, scandals, and variations, Eve Ensler’s «The Vagina Monologues» finally celebrated its Basel premiere on 11th February 2017.
The hidden bite of cuteness
There was no scandal in Basel. Topics such as menstruation, genital mutilation, domestic violence or female empowerment were no taboo for anyone in the audience. Nevertheless, the monologues could be shocking, and the vividness of some descriptions was intense. Yet the empowerment of women formed the evening’s leitmotif. The power to be sexy without having it exploited by a man. The right of not having to be ashamed of one’s own body or sexuality. Terms like «Coochie Snorcher» as an alternative to «Vagina» may sound cute, but they can reveal a hidden bite, depth or rebelliousness.
The ensemble consisted of women of all ages and from several countries. They told stories of mini skirts, the first date in a drive-in cinema in the 1960s, the examination by an uncaring gynaecologist… all of the monologues were disarming and direct. Likewise, the chosen performance dates right before Valentine’s Day were no coincidence: «The Vagina Monologues» is part of V-Day on 14th February, a movement that calls for a stop of violence against women and girls.
Ultimately, «The Vagina Monologues» often faces people with facts. For instance, the fact that two women are raped every day in Switzerland – an estimated number. There is a brutal directness about what is denied or ignored in Central Europe as much as elsewhere. And even more importantly: The goal of V-Day is not to discriminate or even enslave men. It aims to put women on the same level as them. With united forces, one could say with a bit of naiveté, work gets easier. And hopefully, Eve Ensler’s classic (directed by Diana Thomas) will soon find its way back to the stages of Basel – larger ones, with space for more audience.
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