Seen and heard

Yes, The Vagina Monologues contains words my mother would have washed out of my mouth with soap, had I ever tried imitating my brothers by saying them.

But the Monologues audience is composed of grownups — who not only know these words, but, if playwright Eve Ensler has her way, will come to view the frequent declaration of them as incantations of power and redemption.

Ensler based her script on more than 200 interviews she conducted with women about their bodies, creating her characters out of the women’s words. Monologues celebrates the primal awakening women can experience from embracing, literally, all their parts, seen and unseen, to emerge from the darkness “down there” and rise, joyfully, together or alone, moaning into healing wholeness.

Consider the Following’s adaptation of the controversial, Obie-award-winning play is the last show to be staged at downtown Asheville’s beloved green door (the Broadway Arts Building that housed the space was recently sold). Led by the group’s promising young director, Andrea Freeman, Monologues is a fitting farewell. Opening night was about as good as small-stage theater can get: Set designer Ken Sitton set a cosmic mood, and the packed house’s enthusiastic applause was truly justified.

There was lots of laughter — let’s face it, women talking about their vaginas can be pretty funny. The flip side of comedic sex talk, though, is a harsher reality — rape, sexual abuse, mutilation, murder. It was a wise decision to place boxes of Kleenex on the tables — during several scenes, there wasn’t a dry eye to be found. Many of the actresses are students or graduates of the UNCA theater department, and Professor Laura Facciponti was down center beaming with understandable pride.

It would be impossible to single out any one performer for mention — they were uniformly great. Sarah Almond interpreted author Ensler’s investigative journey into awareness with the intensity of the seeker and the confidence of a fashion model. Buffy Weathington, with her long, dark, luxuriant mane, personified women’s essential sexual relationship with hair. Sandra Beckman’s irrepressible comedic flair made an older woman’s reluctant tale of sexual repression poignant and unforgettable. Cynthia TenEyck moved like an electric butterfly, turning memories of a vagina workshop into a mesmerizing metaphor for rebirth.

We can’t print the titles of Kristen Emeola’s two monologues — one a touching story of a young girl’s sexual awakening, the other a word riff on a certain body part that prompted many in the audience to break out in a thigh-slapping, sisterhood-bonding chant along with her. Angela Koon, strutting across the stage in her tight black leather pants, was a tantalizing provocateur with a repertoire of pleasure moans that would make a Hollywood sound-effects wizard drool in envy.

Stephanie Hickling, with her lilting accent and spare but expressive body language, gave a haunting performance, embodying the horrifying nightmares endured by thousands of rape-camp survivors in Bosnia. Martha Wheeler, whose character had been relatively quiet all evening, ends the play with a riveting monologue from a woman who observes her daughter’s vagina as the younger woman gives birth. She remembers her insights in poetry that soars above all the world’s birthing rooms: The heart is capable of sacrifice. So is the vagina. The heart is able to forgive and repair — it can change its shape to let us in; it can expand to let us out. So can the vagina.

The Vagina Monologues, directed by Andrea Freeman and co-produced by Sheldon Lawrence and Lynnora Bierce-Wilson, continues its run at the green door on Carolina Lane Jan. 18-20. Shows start at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $6 in advance, $8 at the door. Consider the Following plans to move into its new home below the Family Dollar store (on the corner of Haywood and College Street) in the spring. In order to raise the $50,000 needed to bring the space up to code, the group will raffle off prizes donated by local merchants during the run of Monologues. Reservations are recommended. Call 273-0451 or e-mail producer@considerthefollowing.com.

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