Tuesday, January 15, 2002

The Vagina Monologues

Beginning an adult discussion

        So what, really, is adult entertainment? The woman who answers the phone at the Hustler store thinks it's edible underwear. When my brother was in junior high school, he believed it was photos of naked women in National Geographic magazine. My daughter and her husband, I suspect, would consider it an evening of television that does not star Scooby Doo.

        Maybe it's like the famous 1964 opinion rendered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who wrote that he could not define pornography “but I know it when I see it.”

The Vagina billboards

        But — let's be frank — we live in Cincinnati. Perhaps we have fewer opportunities to see and judge adult entertainment. This is not ancient history like a local television blackout of Cher's navel or the Mapplethorpe debacle. It's as recent as last June, when patrons of the Esquire Theatre in Clifton learned that its owner sanitized a Wayne Wang film. One woman told a reporter she felt “violated.” (To which the adult response would be, “Oh, puhleeze.”)

        In recent weeks, another opportunity arrived to test our adult-o-meters. Billboards appeared advertising the off-Broadway hit The Vagina Monologues at the Aronoff Center through Jan. 20. Actually, the billboards and the ads in this newspaper look a little bit more like this: the VA(now hear this!)GINA monologues. Big letters.

        “I hate having to explain this word to my daughter on her way to school,” one man groused to the folks at Broadway in Cincinnati, who are presenting the show in cooperation with Playhouse in the Park. If the child is capable of reading billboards, one wonders whether it might not be time to stop calling it her “boom-boom.”

        The most often expressed concern, according to Broadway's PR director Nancy Parrott, was not so much the show. It was, um, you know, that word. “But the conversations were calm, civil,” she says. And the show opened as scheduled, without intervention from anybody wearing a badge.

        In fact, the Cincinnati debut of Eve Ensler's play is sold out. People have been standing in line to see the series of monologues, which range from rage to fantasy to bawdy accounts of anatomy workshops.

Instinct for smut

               The Playhouse's Ed Stern said he received a few complaints from people who hadn't seen the play but just knew instinctively that it would be smut. “People who went to the play see that it's more than vocabulary, it's ideas.”

        After a performance last weekend, several groups of women repaired to the new restaurant next door, Bella's, for dessert and dish. (About 20 percent of the audience was male, but they did not gather in discussion groups. Or, if they did, I could not locate them.)

        “Very silly,” pronounced a middle-aged executive. “It was soft, not political enough.” And she changed the subject to matters not involving personal body parts.

        Another woman said the play suffered from mood swings. “It was really funny. Then, it was too serious.” A claque of younger women was repeating favorite lines, laughing uproariously. “Very funny. Creative.” Yet another group talked quietly about the harrowing vignette about a Bosnian rape victim.

        Live theater. Lively conversation in a dimly lighted, garlicky restaurant with cloth napkins and no big-screen TV. Laughter. Clinking ice. I think I know adult entertainment when I see it.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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