All Kinds of Valentines

by Ruth K. Brown

Valentine’s Day usually brings thoughts of the seemingly omnipresent boxes of chocolate and flowers along with more unique items like heart-shaped jewelry and baked goods. Recently, Milburn Stone Theatre (MST) presented a most unique Valentine’s Day gift … THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES, an iconic feminist work written by Eve Ensler. V-day is a global activist initiative to increase awareness and generate support for those efforts happening around the world to stop violence against women in all its myriad forms. THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES is used frequently at V-day events as it combines humor, pathos and disturbing images to help the audience face the often unspoken.

MST gave their audience an intimate and charming presentation of material that has been called caustic and haranguing. The set comprised of a settee with two occasional chairs with the large proscenium curtain closed behind them created a small space down on the apron of the large MST stage. To help the feeling of comfort and safety, the director, Debra McGuire, decorated with coffee mugs and popped corn which the actors actually consumed as they listened and responded to their visiting “friends”. MST chose to perform this work as a readers’ theatre piece meaning that the scripts were visible and held by the actors.

McGuire then took a talented cast comprised of newcomers to the stage, Conjetta Ferbee and Cheryl Kraus, and more experienced actors, Charnay Govans, Jayne Lewis and Serenity Rowland, and created a production of warmth and acceptance. McGuire’s concept to have them be friends gathering for a social event kept the material from becoming rants and the quiet presentational style allowed the words to be heard clearly without any attached emotional baggage. Ferbee and Kraus should be commended for their willingness to use this production to initially showcase their vulnerability and gentle approach to the text. Actors doing THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES need to be willing and effective in presenting information that is difficult at best to present without seeming pedantic. Kudos to McGuire for working with the women keeping them from reaching too far for either laughs or tears. Govans, Lewis and Rowland are no strangers to area stages and they provided a polished performance counterpoint to the openness of Ferbee and Kraus.

Readers’ theatre comes with its own set of production difficulties … one is volume and the other is visual. This MST cast did a creditable job with the volume even though the uncertainty of where laughs would be did cause the actors to talk over the audience reactions at the beginning. This seemed to resolve itself as the production ran. While the setting did its job for ambience, it also kept the women seated with their heads down reading the material. Perhaps either more rehearsals for familiarity or having the women stand more would have helped them use their hands more effectively to track the words keeping their heads up and their wonderfully expressive faces available to the audience.

The audience of both men and women of all ages at MST last night appreciated the efforts done to present THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES. There were the usual laughs, gasps, sighs and hmms that one expects and they were provided to us in a tender way to allow us to leave the theater saying words we may have never said before in new contexts for our own gratification.

Bravo to Milburn Stone Theatre and this V-day event!

Written by Eve Ensler
Directed by Debra McGuire
February 14, 2012
The Milburn Stone Theatre at Cecil College
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD 21901
Box Office: 401-287-1037

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