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Ending violence

It's much more of a struggle than we might think
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  February 10, 2010

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V-Day is once more upon us, and for those not partial to Hallmark-driven capitalism, the V now also popularly stands for "Vagina" or "Victory," thanks to Eve Ensler's famous monologues about violence against women. In 2006, a newer iteration of the V-Day mission was commissioned by Ensler and Mollie Doyle from renowned writers for the first V-Day: Until the Violence Stops Festival in New York. Joi Smith directs these harrowing, fiercely performed monologues for the Players' Ring on Saturday, February 13, as part of the global V-Day movement.

We might relate to "First Kiss," in which a young American woman (Alana Michael Thyng, with fine nuance) remembers a childhood experience with a camp counselor; or "Maurice," in which a sassy San Diegan tells of near date-rape in a senior boy's laundry van. But then there's the bitter Middle Eastern woman of "Dear Ama" (a piercing Danica Carlson), married off to settle her uncle's crime; and the appalling rape detailed in "Darfur Monologue" (a devastating performance by Whitney Smith).

Particularly horrifying, because of the terse, wry, black practicality of its tone, is "A Teenage Girl's Guide to Surviving Sexual Slavery" (by Ensler, arrestingly performed by Constance Witman), in which a girl relates her kidnapping and two years of regular rape in Congo. Most shocking are some of her more psychologically ambivalent pieces of advice, such as warnings about the natural danger of feeling sympathy or even having feelings for the man who rapes and keeps you prisoner.

The evening also includes three fascinating monologues performed by men, exploring the less obvious ways violence is experienced. In one piece (performed by Will MacDonald), readers of Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times may recognize his experiences visiting Cambodian brothels, where sex workers are often abducted pre-teen girls. With pain he recounts how, because "journalists are not supposed to get involved," he does not intervene.

Another man finds he is an indirect victim of the rapes of the women in his life, in "Rescue," (by Mark Matousek, performed by Scott Caple). In this psychologically rich piece, the speaker arrives at a new understanding about his long-held sense of guilt, and the distinctions between power and violence. And a third man's monologue, "The Destruction Artist" (by Michael Cunningham; performed by Todd Hunter), raises allegorical questions about how to process violence second-hand. The speaker tells of the process by which he progressed from destroying his own mediocre canvases to discovering his new "art": inviting female victims of violence to enact violence upon him.

How are we to approach the extraordinary scope of violence in the world, and our frequent sense of helplessness in the face of it, without creating more violence to ourselves or others in the process? How do we take it on without taking it in? This is the profound question that these monologues cumulatively address. In another Ensler monologue, "Fur is Back," the anger of the speaker at the violence of the world is acute and all-encompassing; she sees only two types of people: the angry people, and "the people at the party," who just want to go on enjoying life. But it would seem that fury is only a starting place for change; just as guilt and self-destructive sublimation have their limits and pathologies.

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