By Spenser Hickey and Sara Jane Sheehan
Assistant Copy Editor and Transcript Correspondent
“Speaking about violence against women because of your mother, your sister, your aunt, your daughter, your girlfriend, your best friend, your wife,” read senior Leah Shaeffer during the introduction of “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer.”
“Speaking about violence against women because the story of women is the story of life itself,” she continued.
“Memory” was performed at OWU on March 26 by student actors, both men and women, and directed by Shaeffer, also a co-director and producer of “The Vagina Monologues” and campus campaign organizer for V-Day at OWU, a movement to end violence against women and girls internationally.
The play, a series of staged readings, was compiled and co-edited by Eve Esler, author of “The Vagina Monologues.” The OWU production featured 16 student performers: three men and 13 women.
The pieces used at OWU, which were written by fifteen different authors – including poet Maya Angelou, historian Howard Zinn and author Alice Walker – focused on responding to sexual assault and violence against women from both male and female perspectives.
While most acts were solo performances, two – Angelou’s “Women Work” and Robin Morgan’s “Connect: A Web of Words” – had a pair of actors sharing the stage.
The latter featured sophomore Kyle Simon and freshman Zoe Morris. The piece “essentially (tells) a story through a series of singular words all pieced together,” Simon said.
During the production, Morris and Simon alternated between listing off the words, which focused on violence against women, particularly in regard to sexual violence, and the associations between military terms and concepts of masculinity and power.
“Big boy A-bomb; nuclear hardness,” they read back and forth toward the end.
“Deep penetration capacity bomb; potent kill capability; rigid, hardened silo; erector launchers; thrust ratios; soft targets.”
“(A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer) was basically the only way I could get involved (in V-Day) as a male, (and) I jumped at the chance,” Simon said. “Secondly, I really love performing for theater even though I’m not a major, so it’s really fun to do something new every now and again.”
He said the performance was “unexpectedly eye-opening,” particularly Edward Albee’s “The Perfect Marriage,” performed by freshman Margot Reed.
“The Perfect Marriage” is about a woman who reluctantly agrees to her husband’s requests for S&M sex and realizes she no longer knows who she is after doing so for five years.
“(The Perfect Marriage) addressed the fact that someone can still feel violated or manipulated or changed regardless of whether or not they seem willing or whether or not sexual assault has taken place,” Simon said.
“I’ll move past who I was when it all began,” Reed said during her performance. “And I don’t remember that; I don’t remember her!
“But . . . who were we?” she asked, shouting as the piece ended. “Who was I? Who am I? I can’t do anything. I can’t leave. I don’t know who I am!”
Sophomore Brianna Robinson performed the piece “Respect” by law professor Kimberle Crenshaw, a specialist in race and gender issues.
“Respect” is about “the intersectionality between sexual violence and race,” something “we all know, kind of know and never even think about,” Robinson said in an email.
The piece asserted the United States was built on the backs – and through the wombs of – slave women, and that African-American women are still treated unequally today.
“We finally got that ‘respect’ that Aretha’s been talking about all these years,” Robinson read. “Or did we? Has the black vagina received the respect she deserves even today? Is it respected when those who enter our vaginas against our will are least likely to be arrested, least likely to be prosecuted, least likely to be convicted, and when, by some miracle, they are convicted, they will receive only one-fifth the sentence of those who rape white vaginas?”
The play mentions a 1989 violent rape in New York’s Central Park where the survivor was beaten nearly to death. Then-governor of New York Mario Cuomo described the incident as “the ultimate shriek of alarm” in an interview with the New York Post.
Five male minors – four black, one Hispanic – were charged and convicted, but set free in 2002 after DNA evidence implicated a different man who said he acted alone.
“Respect” used this example to point out that eight women of color were raped that same week and that one “was gang-raped, thrown down an elevator shaft, and left for dead,” but there was no national outrage for these survivors as there was for the white woman raped in Central Park.
“It was so powerful to read this piece because there were things that were said in it that I did not know,” Robinson said. “It makes me angry that I didn’t know some of the information about things that could have happened to my mother or sister. It opened my eyes to the beauty and powerful characteristics of all African-American women.”
Freshman Lane Bookwalter read Michael Klein’s piece “Looking for the Body Music,” about a woman who is beaten and harassed throughout her life; it is read in the voice of the woman’s son.
Bookwalter said he got involved with the show after attending other events dealing with awareness of sexual assault. He said the performance was about the “emotional, physical and sexual abuse faced by women around the world and what we can do to help.”
Senior Megan Cook read “1600 Elmwood Avenue” by Monica Szlekovics, in which the narrator recounts seeing her mother in an insane asylum as a child.
In the last line, she reveals, “I myself am now confined to an asylum that has been conspicuously disguised as a correctional institution.”
Cook said she was excited to be in the staged reading because “theater is a very powerful way to convey ideas, and lets the audience see things from a new perspective.”
She said she thought the readings were an important follow-up to “The Vagina Monologues,” which she performed in, because they show “the connections and intersections between gender, race, class, age and ability.”
“These monologues are so diverse that they really expose the audience to issues and views they may have never considered before,” she said. “Even for those of us who are very familiar with feminism and social justice, our perspectives were definitely broadened.”
Cook said her monologue led her to “a better understanding of the way that the prison system is the asylum of today.”
“The ways society treats those with mental illness are as problematic as ever, but now, we are able to forget or disregard them as ‘criminals,’” she said.
Sophomore Audrey Bell read “First Kiss” by “Memory” co-editor Mollie Doyle; “First Kiss” tells the story of a 35-year-old woman who returns to the sports camp where she was forcibly kissed by a coach at the age of 6.
“I took part in (A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer) because I believe that people concerned with sexual violence and gender issues should speak out against them,” Bell said.
“The first step to fixing any problem is to increase awareness.”
Other pieces included Mark Matousek’s “Rescue,” read by junior Gus Wood; and Carol Michele Kaplan’s “True,” read by senior Kamila Goldin.
“Rescue” is about a man who grew up living with his mother and three sisters. He realizes all four of them have survived sexual assaults while meeting with a psychiatrist.
“I was shocked myself, not because the information was new but because I’d never said it out loud, which meant it had only half existed,” Wood read.
The narrator then goes on to struggle with the question of being a man without being a rapist, given that all the men he’s known were, and acknowledges that is why he blocked the memories out.
“I’d blocked the truth to save the faith that men could also be good and trusted, that I would never inflict such pain,” he read.
“I come from a family of raped women, but that no longer makes me a rapist. It makes me a man with a broken heart…This is the tenderness men can give women. This is the story when shame finally ends.”
“True” tells four stories: one of a man in a park who stops himself from punching his young daughter when she cries; the second is of a Janjaweed militia soldier in Darfur who doesn’t shoot a nursing woman.
The third is of a Bosnian boy who defends a Muslim classmate from male rapists, and the fourth is of the narrator, who plans to intervene when she realizes a classmate has been beaten by her parents.
Then Goldin paused.
“I wish this is the way things had happened,” she read.
She revealed that the man in the park still punched his daughter, the militiaman shot the nursing woman and the narrator looked away and said nothing.
“They did not happen as I have said, but they might have,” she finished. “Because of the boy from Prijedor (a town in Bosnia). He stopped. He was the only one.”
Simon said the performance “moved” much of the cast.
“…(H)opefully (that) inspires people to strive to be better to others or might even encourage someone to do another event or project related to women’s issues.”
Bookwalter said he wishes the performance could have reached a wider audience.
“While I loved seeing the faces I did, these are stories and events that everybody should witness and feel moved by because then things will truly begin to change once more and more people begin attending these sort(s) of events,” he said.
Cook said she didn’t think the performance was intended for the whole campus community, but for those already involved in advocating for women’s issues, prompting them to “to think more intersectionally about them.”
“Most of the audience members were people who are already very familiar with the problems women face, but from what I’ve heard, those who were there still gained a lot,” she said.
Bell said she got “a lot” from the production.
“I felt so much closer to an issue I had felt so much for,” she said. “I also ended up relating to the issue a lot more. The problems of sexual violence and stifled sexuality within a patriarchy are much more apparent to me now and I have a much better idea of how wide the range of issues extends within my life and those of others.”
University Chaplain Jon Powers, a member of the audience, praised the cast during a discussion following the performance, calling them “the hope of my heart…and the heart of my hope.”