When the 16 women came into the theater, it was electric.
Introductions and reunions rippled among them as they settled in, a nearly palpable energy steadily growing. They were veteran and novice actors, community and spiritual leaders, even politicians, all gathered for one purpose.
They picked up their scripts and got to work.
But not before long, they deviated from the printed pages and into their memories. They told their own stories — tales of heartbreak, hilarity, harassment and empowerment.
Jenna Mate, Valerie diLorenzo and Amy Kirwin looked at each other knowingly.
“Oh, my goodness,” Mate whispered to them. “This is going to be something really special.”
She was right.
Together, they are the cast of Eve Ensler’s Obie Award-winning play “The Vagina Monologues,” which will stage for two performances on Saturday at the Southampton Arts Center, in celebration of V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against all women and girls.
Now in its 20th year, V-Day has raised more than $100 million for grassroots anti-violence groups, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters and safe houses around the world — this particular production benefitting The Retreat in East Hampton, at a time that is more poignant now than ever.
“We all have the stories,” said actor and producer Valerie diLorenzo. “As a result of what happened with the ‘Me Too’ movement, I started remembering a lot of things and there’s a couple instances where I’m still processing what happened, to be honest with you. And I’m not alone — and hopefully other women in the audience will realize that they’re not alone.
“Our only choices as women were to be silent — which meant compliant — or to walk away and cut off all ties. Well, can’t there be another choice?” she continued. “Can’t we find a way? And how about all these girls who have no idea they’re allowed to communicate? This play shows that you can.”
It deeply resonated with Jenna Mate the first time she saw it 20-odd years ago in London, when it was a one-woman show starring Ensler herself, who morphed into each character seamlessly, from one monologue to the next — unafraid, unabashed and provocative.
It was a play that became a revolution, she explained. So when diLorenzo approached her to direct, she jumped out of her chair with an enthusiastic “Yes!”
“I think there are some misnomers about ‘The Vagina Monologues,’” Mate said. “People might expect to come and hear something that’s more about the anatomy than about the story. What’s important to know is it’s really a giant metaphor for people’s experiences. It’s a piece that explores women’s stories that are hysterically funny and women’s stories that are incredibly sad and vulnerable and courageous, and it doesn’t just revolve around the vagina. And it’s not just a piece about feminism. At the heart of it, it’s a piece about women’s authentic experiences.”
More than a dozen monologues, peppered with one-liners and even two songs, will be joined by three real stories from a trio of local women: Amayrani Martinez, Dr. Leslie Duroseau and Pastor Kimberly Quinn Johnson, the director said. “It is going to hit home for a lot of people,” she said, adding that crowd favorites such as “The Flood” and “The Vagina Workshop” will also be performed, among others.
“My monologue is called ‘My Angry Vagina,’” Amy Kirwin, director of programs at the Southampton Arts Center, said with a laugh. “It’s really about the things that we go through that were maybe created with a lack of sensitivity, like tampons, and the things we go through when we visit the lady doctor. My piece, specifically, is about being tired of having to do these things that are expected of you, or you don’t have any control over, and just wanting to be free of it.”
The much-needed comic relief is a stark juxtaposition against the play’s heavier material, Mate explained. They are stories that need to be told, she said — a decision that was made before, and is only elevated by, both the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements.
“I feel like this is a year where women are finally feeling safe and supported in using their voices in new ways, and so I think this piece pairs perfectly with that movement,” Mate said. “It’s important for young women to come and see this piece, and feel comfortable talking about the issues they’re going to see, and I think it’s important for women of any age to know that no matter where you are in your life, you can authentically tell your story, and it’s safe to do so.
“We’re not only working on the pieces, but we’re sharing our stories with each other. So there’s something really deep going on with it,” she continued. “For too long, it hasn’t felt that they could do that. So I think the more women who speak out and the more women who tell their stories without feeling shame — because shame is the thing that hangs over it — the better.”
Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” will stage on Saturday, February 24, at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center, located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton. The afternoon performance will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Loretta Davis, and a Q&A and reception with the cast will follow the evening show.
Cast members include: Elaine Bernstein, Kathleen Carthy, Retreat Director Loretta Davis, Valerie diLorenzo, Carolann DiPirro, Dr. Leslie Duroseau, Rebecca Edana, Legislator Bridget Fleming, Tina Jones, Amy Kirwin, Lola Lama, Amayrani Martinez, Kate Mueth, Cindy Pease Roe, Pastor Kimberly Quinn Johnson, Susan Stout, Matthew Conlon and Edward Brennan.
Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors and $10 for students. A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Retreat. For more information about “The Vagina Monologues,” please call (631) 283-0967 or visit southamptonartscenter.org. For more information about The Retreat, please visit theretreatinc.org.