Samantha Gurn is passionate about combating gender-based violence, a passion that was reinforced while she worked as a graduate assistant in the University of Scranton’s Cultural Centers.
This strong feeling and sense of commitment led her to approach Pat Foti, artistic director of the Endicott Performing Arts Center (EPAC), about staging Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues the weekend of Jan. 18-21.
When it premiered in 1996, New York Times critic Charles Ishewood called the episodic play “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.” The times, and some social attitudes, have changed since then, but the play remains a powerful and important work that exposes audiences to issues that can fly under the radar screen, Gurn said.
These issues include sexual assault, dating violence, rape as a tool of war, and sexual abuse of children, she added, noting: “All the monologues are based on real stories.”
Gurn has sung and acted with local performing groups, such as SRO Productions III and Tri-Cities Opera, but The Vagina Monologues marks her first time as a director. She is working with eight women who will perform 15 monologues. “It’s challenging because the monologues are individually based but also have to connect to other women in the play,” she said.
Ensler, who now goes by the name of V, is a playwright, author, performer and activist. She wrote The Vagina Monologues after conducting more than 200 interviews with women of different races and social strata about their views on sex, relationships and violence towards women.
Since the play was first performed, V/Ensler has revised and updated the play to include issues such as violence directed at transgender and nonbinary individuals, Gurn said.
The play contains some gut-wrenching monologues, such as the testimonies of women raped and mutilated during the Bosnian War. But there are more humorous moments as well, Gurn said. In one such monologue, “My Angry Vagina,” a woman details the “indignities” inflicted on her vagina, from tampons to douches.
What is common throughout is the theme of empowering women and marginalized groups. “I feel like it’s an important play because there is still so much toxic masculinity. Women need to be themselves, not like they’re expected to be in certain ways,” said Rosanna Summa, who is in the EPAC cast.
Summa, who has three sons and three daughters, said that she is used to playing funny characters, such as the monologist of “My Angry Vagina.” The challenging part is that there are no other performers to play off, and, she noted with a laugh, “There are a lot of lines to learn.”
A great deal of rehearsal time has been spent on character development and bringing the eight women cast members together as an ensemble, Gurn said.
Working with the diverse cast has been a very freeing experience as the performers inject their personal perspectives into their roles, said cast member Michelle Colburn.
Colburn is focused on showing “respect and dignity” in a monologue written from the perspective of a trans person. “The play talks about issues not talked about in public. It’s important for us to put a light on these issues,” she said.
Here’s the obligatory warning: The Vagina Monologues deals with adult topics in language that is often blunt.
Gurn hopes audience members will go home having learned something. Cast members voice similar thoughts. “Men should look at the emotional value of the play,” Summa said. “I tell the men in my life, ‘Do you love someone with a vagina?’ Then, it applies to you. ‘Do you care about someone with a vagina? Then, it’s relevant to you.”
IF YOU GO: The Vagina Monologues will be performed Jan. 18-21 at the Endicott Performing Arts Center, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Reserved seating tickets at $20 ($18 for seniors) are available at the EPAC box office and at www.EndicottArts.com.