Our topic is vaginas.
And violations thereof.
"Has the black vagina received the respect she deserves?" asks Saundra Penn, pacing the stage at the Onyx Theatre, provocative words all the more electric for her matter-of-fact delivery.
"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?"
Castmates, bunched up near the back of the theater, awaiting their rehearsal turns onstage, sit quietly, riveted. "Is it respected when everyone knows about the Central Park jogger, but no one knows about the eight other women of color raped in New York that very week, one who was gang-raped, thrown down an elevator shaft and left for dead?"
Such appalling disrespect is disclosed in one of 15 monologues comprising "A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer" this weekend at the Onyx. "It's really important to deliver the message in an artistic form because people are less likely to stray away from it if they perceive it as art," says "MMRP" director/performer and self-proclaimed "vagina warrior" Judi Brown.
"I have a women's study degree so I could get up here and talk feminist theory but no one wants to listen to that."
Sexual violence is a dominant theme on community theater stages this weekend. As rape-themed "Extremities" continues its Las Vegas Little Theatre run, "MMRP" follows last weekend's "V-Day" performances of "The Vagina Monologues" at Main Street's Place Gallery.
Benefiting the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence, "MMRP" is culled from a collection of writings by an all-star roster of poets, authors and playwrights -- by turns heartfelt, enraged, comic, tragic and plaintive -- including Alice Walker, Kathy Najimy, Susan Miller and Maya Angelou. Pieces range from the aforementioned "Respect" to one set in the Congo, titled "A Teenage Girl's Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery."
"We still live in a culture that glamorizes violence in general and violence against women specifically," Brown says. "What is it, that 'Watchmen' comic book movie, the scene in there where the woman is about to be raped? It's appalling to me that they make it look sexy, they associate rape with sex."
Yet the intense scenarios can turn triumphant, with playful comedic touches, as it does in Najimy's "Maurice," in which actress Sunshine Davis portrays a woman recalling a junior high school encounter with a popular boy.
Sashaying about the stage, the sassy, curvaceous Davis, hands defiantly on hips, remembers how at 16 she "discovered my BOOBS" and "so did Maurice." Flash forward to a funny-frightening description of almost losing her virginity in the boy's uncle's dry-cleaning van in a Kmart parking lot.
" 'Stop,' I said. 'IT'S TOO LATE!' he screamed at me. ... Did boys have some physical limit that made it impossible for them to stop? Was I going to break something in his insides, a muscle that, once they started humping and kissing on a slutty fat girl, they couldn't possibly stop without being paralyzed?" Then, she tells us, she reached for the van door handle and Maurice "fell out and smashed onto the cement parking lot floor." Score it a loss for the horny, high school violator as she got "a Tab, a bag of barbecue potato chips and walked home," unbowed.
"All these pieces make you think, whether it's a lighthearted way or more harsh stories," says Teresa Fullerton, another "MMRP" performer. "The gamut of characters and ages and situations is wide and diverse. Some women are not in this country, but what women in other countries are dealing with."
Men are represented in several monologues, given that, as Brown adds, "you can't dialogue about sexual violence without making men comfortable talking about it."
"Rescue," penned by Mark Matousek, revolves around a man who lives among sexually violated women. "I learned a lot about myself, how I respond to certain situations," says Gene Rios, who delivers the piece. "If as men we can face this and know it is happening around us to people we love, it will force the issue and make us have to get involved."
Taking the stage, actress Karen Y. Lu launches into "Darfur Monologue," a harrowing recounting of her gang rape to her newborn son. "Your father, all six of him, dragged me through the dust, my head bobbing over the stones," she says with a hushed, agonized power in her voice. "Your father, all six of him, threw me facedown in the dirt. As I choked sand, your father, all six of him, cut my clothes off with a knife. One by one, all six of him entered me."
Our topic isn't vaginas.
Our topic is violence.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.