Don’t let the agitprop trappings of V-day performances and celebrity casts fool you — The Vagina Monologues is serious theater, a great play that also happens to be part of the feminist movement. It’s also a remarkably difficult and daring text to deliver. Few works of theater test the reliability and trust between performers and audience more thoroughly, or depend more completely on the manifestation of a respectful “fourth wall.” The four actresses who have taken up the challenge at Center Stage are all equal to the very formidable material, which can still shake up an audience no matter how sophisticated or naïve they may be. E. Bonnie Lewis excelled with several pieces, including both playwright Eve Ensler’s evocative meditation on childbirth, “I Was There in the Room,” and the outrageous comedy of “My Angry Vagina,” with all its vituperation against consumer culture. Maia Mook made a particularly strong impression with her rendition of “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” the unlikely story of a sex worker whose clients are exclusively female.
Carol Metcalf took on the rigorous “Vagina Workshop” piece, in which the character must undergo the fundamental shift in self-perception that underlies many of the play’s stories. Her steady pacing and expert use of an accent gave the segment great power. Recent Santa Barbara arrival Ivy Vahanian gave the audience much to look forward to as she demonstrated her outstanding vocal command for the shocking aria “Reclaiming Cunt,” while Santa Barbara veteran Carol Metcalf showed us once again what a master of voice and gesture she is, in one of the play’s most difficult monologues, the controversial “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could.” Director Jerry Oshinsky is to be praised not only for helping to organize this theatrical event but also for his surprising and effective appearance in it, delivering Ensler’s recent monologue “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy… Or So They Tried.”