In 1996 playwright, activist, and screenwriter Eve Ensler gave birth not to a child but to a play known as The Vagina Monologues. The work -- featuring three women waxing lyrical about good, bad, and ugly aspects of the vagina -- has grown to be quite a precocious child: enjoying a sold-out off-Broadway run starring Ensler; earning accolades including the 1997 Obie Award (given to off-Broadway productions); attracting close to 100 major celebrities as stars for limited runs; and generating V-day, a Valentine's Day benefit held in 800 cities around the world that raises funds for groups that aid abused women.
Quite a feat for a play concerning female genitalia. "I didn't start out trying to shock people or scare people," notes Ensler on the phone from New York. "I was just interested in vaginas." And so are many others, it seems. Touring companies of the show have performed in 45 nations. (A run is in progress on Miami Beach.) And it appears the play has prompted some previously prudish people to feel more comfortable throwing the word vagina into idle conversation. "I'm happy to take the blame," Ensler says.
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Something else Ensler and her play might take responsibility for is nurturing an atmosphere of autonomy that has allowed for the rise of new and more daring shows. Sure actors have paraded around nude onstage before. Oh! Calcutta! during the late Sixties is one example. But now we have gems such as Puppetry of the Penis, in which a duo of men manipulate their genitals as if they were balloon animals; and the runaway hit Urinetown, a Broadway musical farce about a world in which water is a hot commodity and people are forced into a pay-per-pee system. If Ensler had anything to do with it, that suits her just fine as well. "I think it's great," she says animatedly. "Anytime people can be free, it's great."