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Globe and Mail

Don't say 'vagina' to Moncton

The Globe and Mail, By REBECCA CALDWELL, Tuesday, February 11, 2003 Print Edition, Page R2

The weather is chilly in Moncton as the city recovers from last week's ice storm that left many homes and businesses without power. And local producers of The Vagina Monologues are perhaps finding it colder still, as the New Brunswick city's attitude toward the show's title proves to be downright frigid.

"People get all giggly and squeamish when they hear the word," says Debby Warren, one of the organizer's for the Feb. 26 benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues at Moncton's Capitol Theatre. "But worse, we've had companies very reluctant to support us, people who wouldn't return our phone calls. One person I spoke to wouldn't send out our e-mail poster to their 700 employees because he didn't think his boss would think it is a good idea."

Ironically, The Vagina Monologues is principally about people's discomfort with the word and what it symbolizes. According to the show's Web site, the word vagina is said 136 times during the production.

An Obie Award-winning play, The Vagina Monologues, has toured more than 40 countries. The Broadway, Toronto and Los Angeles shows saw a legion of female stars rotate through the three-hander, including Glenn Close, Jane Fonda, Oprah Winfrey and Erin Brockovich. Globe and Mail theatre critic Kate Taylor praised the show when it played in Toronto, noting its "brief moments of appalled introspection concerning violence against women are snuffed out by much longer periods of raucous revelling in the glories of the vagina."

But Moncton is not the first case where the title has been accused of being unduly titillating. Last June, in Birmingham, Ala., the city's daily newspaper, The Birmingham News, would not accept advertising or report on the show. In Irvington, N.Y, the municipality's board of trustees stipulated that the title of the show was not allowed to be used in advertising on municipal property. And in Bangalore, India, a group of lawyers complained to police that the show's title was "vulgar" and "offensive."

The Moncton production is part of an international series, V-Day, where 1,000 performances worldwide are expected to raise $10-million (U.S.) for a variety of women's and family charities. Moncton's production will benefit the Crossroads for Women and the Beausjour Family Crisis Resource Centre. The roster of 15 women performing, mostly local celebrities, includes Valerie Roy, the CEO of the city's Chamber of Commerce, and Thea Borlase, an 81-year-old woman who received the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts.

Considering that sex is a sure-fire selling point, Warren has found the number of doors slammed in her face bizarre and frustrating. She blames Moncton's "small-town, conservative politics."

"It's a play about violence against women," she says. "How are we supposed to talk about it if we can't even say the word? How are we supposed to celebrate the vagina if people are too uncomfortable to even talk about it?"

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