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- The Vagina Monologues at Hamilton Place
VIEW Magazine - November 2002
by Kerry Corrigan
The Vagina Monologues truly are a phenomenon. Eve Ensler’s book, based on over 200 interviews with women about, well, their vaginas, became a wildly successful play, inspiring V-Day, a thriving grassroots movement to stop violence against women.
The mission is two-pronged. While funds raised from numerous permanent and touring productions are used for financial aid to dozens of women’s organizations all over the world, The Monologues themselves spread a message of openness and acceptance, of freedom from violence, freedom from subjugation, and permission to experience pleasure.
The touring production now in the midst of an 8-show run at Hamilton Place features Loretta Swit, along with Starla Benford and Kristen Lee Kelly, in this one-act evening of monologues that is shocking, liberating, refreshing and very funny.
On the phone from her hotel room in East Rutherford days before her arrival in Hamilton, Ms. Swit’s enthusiasm for the show was inspiring. It seems anyone who participates in The Vagina Monologues can’t help but become committed to the movement. Swit is no exception.
Best known for her comedic skill as Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on TV’s M*A*S*H, Swit is generous and genuinely kind on the phone with a voice that’s a velvety purr, deep and luxurious. When Swit first asks if I’m familiar with the monologues and I admit to having performed it in a one-night-stand, she is thrilled.
“You’ve done it? Good for you! What did you do? Which monologues?” she asks with genuine excitement in her tone.
“I’m such a veteran at this point,” she offers, citing 6 week runs in New York, Chicago, London, then touring with the company to New Orleans, Hawaii, Tucson, etc, “and now I’m thrilled to be coming up to Hamilton, so there you are.”
“It’s fabulous. I really, really love doing this piece and getting the reaction that the monologues get. It’s so overwhelmingly satisfying, and then to have the bonus, at the end of the day, knowing that a lot of the money is going towards women all over the world. . . . there is no better feeling.”
Swit notes that audience response can vary quite dramatically. “The last town you played, they had a different response. There is definitely a different feeling, each time you do it.”
She performs Bosnia, Hair, Bob and the Sexworker, and enjoys being the featured performer with the two regulars Benford and Kelly. Other “inserts” in the tour have included Margot Kidder, Brooke Shields, Ricki Lake and Jerry Hall. Despite the exotic locales, Ms. Swit makes it clear that it’s the play, directed by Abby Epstein, which occupies all of her attention and energy on tour.
“You know when I’m working, I’ll be honest with you, my whole focus is on that performance,” she confides. “I treat my profession like it’s brain surgery, I don’t run around and play two sets of tennis or whatever. I try to sleep a little later when I’m doing theatre, do my exercises. My kind of normal day but I don’t tire myself out. All my energies are focused on that performance at eight o’clock.”
Asked when she first knew she wanted to be on the stage, she quickly replies, “First thought in my head! I can’t remember an adult moment when I made the decision. Decisions aren’t made anyway, they’re reached.” She also credits her mother’s passion for movies as she was growing up, a passion that mother and daughter still share today.
“We would go to two double features in a day! We just loved movies.”
Swit grew up wanting to be the actress on that screen. “Not the character, which is a childhood fantasy that a lot of people have. I wanted to be the actor being that character.”
“I’ve played Canada,” she laughs when asked about her exposure to our northern frontier. “Every actor I know has done a LOT of work in Canada.”
As well as filming a number of movies and projects in Vancouver, Swit has toured “all over Canada” in Shirley Valentine and in Same Time, Next Year with John O’Hurley.
She sounds confident that Hamilton will embrace The Vagina Monologues.
“The sequence of the monologues is brilliant. It takes you everywhere. It allows you to jackknife and kneeslap and laugh. It allows you to experience the sadness, the sorrow, the pain in Bosnia, it takes you everywhere. It allows you to laugh at yourself and the euphemisms for the vagina – it’s got everything for me. And I feel when people leave, seeing it for the first time, they are changed, and that’s great theatre if it touches your life. If it makes you think, makes you feel, it has altered that life pattern for you and that’s what a great play does.”
// tie dye