Theater endeavors to take us on trips where few have traveled, covering subjects that few dares speak of. One of the most exotic destinations and taboo topics is that of the VAGINA. The mere mention of the word can strike fear, stupefaction, and excitement, oftentimes simultaneously. Every culture ‘handles’ it differently and every family approaches or avoids, it in their own unique way.
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My mother used only euphemisms to describe it. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I actually heard her say the word and that was while quoting a doctor who proclaimed that my 70-year-old grandmother had “the VAGINA of a 16-year-old.” (a staggering statement considering my grandma had 9 kids)
Rasaka Theatre Company and Premiere Theatre & Performance present the Chicago premiere of Yoni Ki Baat, the ‘South Asian/Desi Vagina Monologues.’ This provocative and entertaining exploration of female sexuality does more than simply push the boundaries of polite conversation. Rather, it figuratively drops the drawers and verbally bares all.
If I had a nickel for every overheard conversation about penises that I have endured in my life, I could retire comfortably. If I had a nickel for every overheard conversation that I have eavesdropped about VAGINAS, I couldn’t buy a cup of coffee. Even at the gynecologist’s office, it is more often ‘the anatomy that shall not be named.’
Yoni Ki Baat demystifies the VAGINA through a series of personal stories about menstruation, masturbation, castigation, stimulation, and fornication that encourage conversation, engage the imagination and include, but are not limited to, tales of troubled pro-creation. That is to say, there’s a lot of vaginal discourse. And really, what is the problem? Even if you don’t have one and/or aren’t inclined to get to know one, it is the very point of entry for us all.
Director/Curator Lavina Jadhwani assembles a remarkably gifted cast to deliver the cleverly collected anecdotes. Although Yoni Ki Baat has been performed across the country and in India, this production features six world premiere monologues written by local writers as well as six pieces edited from previous productions. The result is an intimate evening of cultural insight, candid exposition and exceptional performance.
If you think that listening to VAGINA TALK might be awkward, imagine delivering it. But this endearing ensemble effortlessly enters the forbidden territory, making us not only comfortable but compelling us to care.
Still, even for one as delighted with the topic as myself, comfort zones are challenged. I’m Not Really A Lesbian, written by Angeli Primlani, substantiated many of the misconceived stereotypes about gay and bi-sexual women. Although I personally found this particular monologue to be a sophomoric step backwards in understanding the complex psyche of female homosexuality, Mouzam Makkar’s unflinchingly charming delivery provided a fascinating examination of an unfortunate characterization.
The entire cast creates compelling scenes. Anita Chandwaney captures the audience from the opening scene with her secure and silly account of My Yoni Smells Like Desi Yoni. Fawzia Mirza’s performance of A Civil Procedure is brilliantly hysterical and Minita Gandhi intelligently closes the show with the universally profound Silence and the Word.
This explicit look at diasporic culture would be better served with a little more music and dance. The opening and closing scenes are lovely but leave you wanting more as they add a delightful and well-deserved sense of celebration to the evening.
Still, it is revolutionary to hear the voices of these uncompromising writers delivered by this unapologetic and outstanding ensemble.
Yoni Ki Baat shines a long overdue spotlight on the relevance of women’s stories. It serves the vital purpose of giving a vocabulary to an exigent topic while defusing the discomfort through enchanting and captivating connection.
3 ½ STARS