Viva Vagina, Shadowbox Live’s newest Stage 2 production, conjures up thoughts of a musical variation of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues or a cabaret-style, satirical, faux-chauvinistic but ultimately feminist comedy. This production does not really do either. Instead, it presents a broad palette of woman-related scenes, monologues, stand-up, video, songs, and a dance. That mentioned, Viva Vagina does a nice job varying the offerings of a typical Shadowbox show.
Taking a break from traditional comedic sketches and music-driven productions, Viva Vagina features more dramatic or serious pieces. The ladies of Shadowbox really stretch and showcase their acting muscles. Don Nigro’s “The Lost Girl,” directed by Stev Guyer, remains the smartest scene on the Shadowbox stage that I’ve experienced. Betsy Shortt, Julie Klein, and Michelle Daniels excel in this piece which illustrates the emotional and mental counter-productivity of mirrors and time.
Further, Daniels captivates the audience in her monologue “Genesis,” also by Nigro and directed by Klein. In it, Eve describes what happened in the Garden of Eden, in an enlightening way. Daniels’ grace and ease with her speech makes it impossible to look away, until the lighting unfortunately changed to darken and obscure her face.
As expected at Shadowbox, the songs pulse off the stage. Stacie Boord’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Stev Guyer’s “You are so Beautiful” stand out. Also, the Stacie Boord, Stephanie Shull, Nikki Fagan, and Noelle Grandison quartet of “Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves” shares an excellent arrangement that highlights each vocalist superbly.
Of course, the show does feature some comedy, with stand-up sprinkled throughout. David Whitehouse shines in his spotlight describing things he’d do if he had a vagina for a day. Some may find it offensive, but really it comes off as a simple and pleasant man explaining a huge curiosity of his, in a way which creates audience cackling. Also, the clever video segment, “Campaign for Your Love,” provides laugh-out-loud comedy as it promotes potential dating partners like political candidates.
As to the title: Viva Vagina—long live vagina. Given the composition of the show, which though entertaining, mostly just centers on some women issues or characters, the title seems to equate that women are vaginas. This conglomeration of content creates an overarching theme of “female,” which inadvertently diminishes women to their sexual organs. A more appropriate title may have been Girls, Girls, Girls.
Honestly, I found little empowering about this show, assuming that served as its purpose. “The Lost Girl” and parts of Nickey Winkelman’s stand-up serve as exceptions. Perhaps even the corset or negligee costumes of many of the women do too, because feeling sexy or promoting sexuality can be empowering, but objectifying women as sexual toys is not. I tend to feel Shadowbox strove for the former on that one though.
In reality, I wish the show could have tackled some harder issues for women such as: the wage gap; pregnancy woes; lesbianism; domestic violence; rape; international women’s rights issues; gender roles; minority women’s discrimination; or reproductive rights. Rather, it seemed to focus on qualms for single, heterosexual, middle-class, white women in America. They brushed over problems like insecurity, feeling old and ugly (especially interesting since the actresses all seem young and beautiful), and trying to stand as an “independent” woman while still craving a man.
Despite these things, I respect that Shadowbox tried something different, especially in expanding its roles for women. For a bit of variety, gather the girls and travel to Shadowbox Live. Maybe even bring along the token penis too.
Photos by Studio 66.
Viva Vagina runs until July 11, at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front Street. Wed. & Thurs. at 7:30 pm. Tickets $30; $20 for students & seniors. More information can be found online at www.shadowboxlive.org.