Theatrical therapy: Local family shelter staging ‘Monologues’
BY HANNAH KOHUT Correspondent June 21, 2012 9:50PM
Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," speaks Monday during a performance of her play by Lisa Brown — a Michigan state representative — and others on the Michigan Statehouse steps in Lansing, Mich. Ensler helped performed the play after Brown said she was barred from speaking in the Michigan House because Republicans objected to her saying "vagina" during debate over anti-abortion legislation. | AP photo
Updated: July 23, 2012 7:47AM
Some call the subject taboo or inappropriate or say it’s an example of “too much information.”
Others, however, see “The Vagina Monologues” as theatrical therapy.
This weekend, domestic abuse victims and volunteers for the South Suburban Family Shelter in Homewood will perform Eve Ensler’s iconic production, addressing a wide range of issues that women face. Shows will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Prairie State College, 202 S. Halsted St. in Chicago Heights.
Jacqueline Canty, a shelter volunteer who is directing the show, said selling out two shows last year prompted this year’s encore.
“We have 24 women in this year’s production,” Canty said. “Two of them are repeat performers from last year. A lot of people don’t know what ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is about. They think it’s a comedy or a play, but it covers very serious issues like domestic abuse and women coming to their own.”
Canty said some cast members are open about being domestic abuse victims and use the production for self-expression.
“Watching these women (express themselves) is amazing,” Canty said.
One victim, Jessica Carter, 33, of Markham, said abuse is nothing to be ashamed of and hopes the production will persuade some silent victims who are afraid to come forward.
“I came to the shelter when I was young, and again when I was a teenager,” Carter said. “They helped me, my mom and my sister so much.”
Carter recently moved back to the area from North Carolina and learned about the production soon after.
“I’ve acted in a couple of musicals before,” Carter said. “But this is my first play with no singing involved.”
Carter said she has seen “The Vagina Monologues” a few times and agrees with Canty that the subject matter is dark and can be rather offensive.
“You’ll be uncomfortable, but it’s very enriching,” Carter said. “But I’m looking forward to standing up at the end when they ask all victims to rise. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Rita James, 63, who has volunteered with the shelter in the past, echoed Carter’s comments.
“Women are kind of silent about speaking about parts of their body,” said James, of Chicago Heights. “But we’re not afraid of expressing how we feel.”
James said there is no shame in talking about having been abused.
“You’re a victim of abuse, but you don’t have to feel guilty,” James said. She said her hope is that other women learn to feel comfortable about their bodies and situations.
Volunteer and cast member Irma Gutierrez said Latino women could benefit from seeing or taking part in the show. As a social worker, she often encounters Latino women who are afraid to address sex and abuse, she said.
“I’m excited to help,” Gutierrez said. “Coming from a Latino culture, we don’t talk about these kinds of things. Some Latino women are first-generation here and don’t talk to their daughters about that kind of stuff, which is leading to unhealthy relationships and teen pregnancy.”
Gutierrez said her goal from the production is to show women of the Latino community that it’s OK to reach out for help and to talk about sex with their daughters.
Despite the mature content, even a 17-year-old high school graduate stepped up to the plate and auditioned. Summer Fields, who just graduated from Marian Catholic High School with a 4.1 grade-point average, said she was sitting in a Homewood coffee shop when she saw the flier for open auditions.
“It’s not at all awkward for me,” Fields said. “I’m around so many women who are open about this kind of stuff, and I think my generation is a lot more comfortable with it.”
Fields said it took the other cast members some time to adjust to her youth, but she understood.
“Before my generation, women just didn’t talk about issues like these,” Fields said.
Vicki Meilach, who has been with the shelter for 16 years and is its community outreach coordinator, is eager to see this year’s turnout.
“This is so empowering for all our cast members,” Meilach said. “We had to expand to three shows this year because we sold out both our shows last year. We want to educate the public, and make them want to go home and become more involved in advocacy.”
Ninety percent of the show’s proceeds go to the shelter, while 10 percent will go to benefit women in Haiti. For more information or to buy tickets, which are $15, call (708) 798-7737 or visit www.ssfs1.org.