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Obscenity Masquerades As Theatre

28 March 2002

How low has artistic expression sunk in New Zealand? A Fringe Festival is guaranteed to produce the weird and the wonderful, and Wellington’s recent offering lived up to this expectation. But along with the unusual came an extreme example of obscenity masquerading as theatre. The Vagina Monologues have been described by the Dominion reviewer, Timothy O’Brien, as "an international phenomenon", and "not in any sense a play… more like a cross between stand-up comedy and a confessional television show". In addition, he says "as touching and real as the interview monologues are, the vulgarity of the whole conception is truly overwhelming".

If a theatre critic can voice such an opinion in this libertarian age, when nudity and simulated sex on stage are condoned, then this show must have reached an all-time low. No doubt there was some real drama in some of the monologues. But for anyone with a sense of decency and a love of theatre, it’s hard to imagine audience members being encouraged to greet each other with a word so obscene it’s unprintable, and later to sing it as a round.

With extreme generosity, such behaviour could possibly be forgiven as the worst possible example of a Fringe Festival. But no, the Festival is over but, like an obnoxious odour, the Vagina Monologues linger on, now as a mainstream theatre offering.

It’s natural for small children to have a fascination with their bodies, but as they grow, children used to be taught that certain parts are private. How unfortunate it is that some proponents of art and literature should have remained at the immature, infantile stage and take gleeful pleasure in exposing their lack of inhibitions!

Whatever has happened to decency and good taste? Drama that attracts by its excellence, not by its shocking indecency? When such foul language and obscenity as occur in The Vagina Monologues are promoted as compelling theatre, is it any wonder that standards in society get lower every year? If we accept such a degrading performance as good entertainment, who dares complain about "undesirable" behaviour on our city streets at night?


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