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Pussy power
Boston celebs brave the C-word for a benefit Vagina Monologues

For the past 12 years, the social-service agency the Second Step has provided long-term assistance to survivors of domestic abuse by helping women make crucial changes in their lives. Among the methods employed are therapy, job-skill development, and ongoing support, but raising clients’ self-esteem is at the core. And this year’s fundraiser, a one-night-only performance of Eve Ensler’s Obie-winning theater piece The Vagina Monologues, seems a perfect fit for the organization’s philosophy.

"My sense of the play was that it validated the importance of women’s perceptions of themselves," Agency director Liz Kirsch explains. "The Second Step works with women who are survivors of domestic violence. Women come to us with very low self-esteem, and we help them increase their self-esteem and recognize their self-worth. I really felt that play gave that message to women."

The Vagina Monologues was performed Off Broadway (and in Boston) first by Ensler and then by trios of actresses. The Second Step thinks bigger: among the 38-member cast of the benefit performance are media personalities Susan Wornick and Marjorie O’Neill Clapprood, Sheriff Andrea Cabral of Suffolk County, and Boston Herald theater critic Terry Byrne. Some performers, like Terry Hamilton, wife of Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton, have not been on stage before but are willing to endure butterflies for the good of the project. "I went to my first the Second Step dinner four years ago, and it struck me as a down-to-earth organization," says Hamilton. "It wasn’t glitz and glam, and you knew every cent went to the women and the two houses."

Indeed, the rehearsal process has been a seminar in consciousness-raising. "It has been emotional," says director Billie Jo Joy, who has also directed the play at Harvard University. "There have been tears. It’s a transformational process for the women, and they start to feel differently about their vaginas and the world around them. I hate to use the word empowerment, but I see women becoming more empowered." One member of the cast, who works in the medical field, "does vaginal exams all the time," she says. "She says a lot of women are very embarrassed when they’re going to have a pelvic exam, and she found herself repeating this line from the play to them: ‘It’s who you are.’ It’s amazing to me to think of the ripple effect of this play in normal, everyday interactions."

For Andrea Cabral, the sheriff of Suffolk County, the domestic-violence themes in the play are very familiar from her work in law enforcement. Cabral will perform a monologue "on domestic violence called ‘Crooked Braid,’ " she says. "It’s based on Eve Ensler’s discussion with members of a Native American tribe." This monologue has "the same kind of stories victims would tell me — the same small and large cruelties that may be physically painful but also really stab at the heart of a person’s self-esteem."

Radio personality Marjorie O’Neill Clapprood is "humbled and a bit intimidated to be doing Glenn Close’s very famous part where she reclaims the C-word," she says. "I’ve been moved to tears and raucous laughter by the rehearsals so far." Clapprood adds, "The cast has come together in the way a sportscaster would say the New England Patriots have. I think our collective sisterhood has given us a lot of strength and courage to go for broke on these performances."

Director Joy marvels at how "positively" women respond to the subject matter in the play. "Sometimes a play will do more than any speeches," she says. "Art has a power that often isn’t used in the political realm but proves to be very powerful."

The Vagina Monologues will be presented next Thursday, February 5, at John Hancock Hall, 200 Berkeley Street in Boston. Tickets are $150 and $350, to benefit the Second Step. Call (617) 965-2026.

Issue Date: January 30 - February 5, 2004
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