The audience for “Regis and Kathy Lee” boisterously chanted it. A pubescent toddler in “Kindergarten Cop” told his classmates that girls have it.

Calista Flockhart tried in vain to get David Letterman to utter it in front of a national audience but the comedian kept his dignity. Yes kids, the word is vagina, and it is taking the nation by storm thanks to Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.”

In the past few years, “The Vagina Monologues” has grown from an off-broadway hit in 1996, when it made headlines because of the appearance of NYC mayor Rudy Giulani’s wife, to a cultural phenomenon.

The play has been performed in over 40 countries. With two North American touring companies, it is currently booked in over 160 cities in the US and Canada and has been translated into over 35 different languages. This year, 1,000 performances by “The Vagina Monologues” touring professionals are scheduled for a four-week period.

The biggest day of the year for advocates of “The Vagina Monologues” each year is Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. Ensler and her followers have designated the 14th as “V-Day” and have devoted the day to ending violence against women and girls throughout the world.

Commercial productions of “The Vagina Monologues” have raised over $5,800,000 through ticket sales for “V-Day” and over $8 million for “V-Day” has been raised through benefit performances of “The Vagina Monologues” since 1998.

At “V-Day 2001,” which sold out Madison Square Garden, Eve Ensler was joined by such stars as Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Glenn Close, Calista Flockhart, Marisa Tomei, Rosie Perez, Teri Hatcher, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Queen Latifah, Brooke Shields, Julie Kavner, Amy Irving and over 60 others. Over 2,000 events are planned for “V-Day” this year.

One of the places where performances of “The Vagina Monologues” are extremely popular is on college campuses. The political atmosphere of a college campus, combined with the ability of students who live in the same location with similar interests and problems makes it an ideal target for the movement.

“The Vagina Monologues” first appeared on the UR campus last year, and will be performed again this Valentine’s Day night. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Sojourner House and the Rape Crisis Center of Planned Parenthood.

The play itself is a collection of 200 monologues that explore the humor, power, pain, excitement and mystery of the vagina and the feminist movement altogether. Some of the scenes are entitled “My Angry Vagina,” “My Short Skirt,” “If Your Vagina Could Talk What Would It Say?” and “If Your Vagina Got Dressed What Would It Wear?”

Three actresses appear on stage at once, and they read the stories off cue cards that are in full view of the audience.

Junior Emily Feldman, who is partly responsible for bringing the Vagina Monologues to UR, said that the Monologues broach a wide array of emotions in women including “reflections about life, anger, happiness and freedom.”

Fellow junior Elyse Gilbert, who is performing a scene entitled “Under the Burqa,” that chronicles the injustices Afghani women have suffered by being forced to wear long dresses in onerous summer heat, says that she is appearing in “The Vagina Monologues” to assist in “breaking the silence on the oppression and mistreatment that women suffer today.”

Tia Neely, the director of the performance adds that it is “a great way to bring up issues that people don’t want to talk about in a humorous way.”Although “The Vagina Monologues” has received tremendous support among female celebrities in the recent past, its reviews have been mixed.

Sharon Lerner of “The Village Voice” praised the play, claiming that its “intent is purely missionary — to reclaim the much maligned ‘vagina’ for women the same way the gay community has reclaimed the term queer.”

Meanwhile Betty Dotson of “The Spectator” is critical of the anti-sex ideology and focus on violence that the play presents.

“The main problem with ‘the Vagina Monologues’ is that women end up celebrating sexual violence and not the creative or regenerative pleasures of erotic love,” Dotson said. “Ending violence is a worthy cause and I’m all for it. But consistently equating sex with violence offers no solution.”

Nevertheless, Ensler’s work has spurred women throughout the world to bond together to defeat oppression and violence regardless of whether sex and violence against women should have a correlation.

Ensler should be commended for persuading otherwise shy women into taking a leadership role and expressing their true feelings on feminism in public.

Check out “The Vagina Monologues” at 7 p.m on Valentine’s Day and 3 p.m. on Sunday at Strong Auditorium.

Tickets to the show are $5 for UR undergraduate students and $8 for all others and are available at The Common Market and at the door.

Rybaltowski can be reached at mrybaltowski@campus

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