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Man, woman, sex and gender on stage at Whole Art Theatre

By | 2007-09-13T09:00:00-04:00 September 13th, 2007|Entertainment|

By Michael Margolin

KALAMAZOO – A new production of “The Vagina Monologues” opens the season at Kalamazoo’s adventurous Whole Art Theatre, and the edgy script is getting a further walk on the wild side: The director, Amy Hunter, is transgender, preparing for the final surgery next January that will remove the last vestiges of her male orientation. Hunter is directing the show “having lived in the unique perspective of both genders,” she says by phone from Kalamazoo.
Many thought there was only one perspective in Eve Ensler’s series of monologues, culled from 2,000 interviews of women telling stories of rape, menstruation, orgasm, pleasure, fears and feelings about sexuality – ultimately the center of their feeling, the vagina. But, says Hunter, “I think that ‘The Vagina Monologues’ has one point of view because people want it to.”
In the 10 or so years since the play opened off-Broadway to nearly universal acclaim and numerous awards, Hunter believes that subsequent productions have become flag-waving feminist outpourings, nurtured by biased directors.
“When it was first hinted that I was going to direct (this production), everyone had an opinion,” Hunter says. “Don’t let it be about pissed-off women at a microphone,” some told her. “Secretly,” she says, “that was my opinion. It has greater depth than a strident feminist message. It has been co-opted.
“I understand why men do (the things described); they are just as afraid of their own sexuality and the thing between their legs as women.” Says Hunter, of her own sexuality, “It’s so much more than what’s hanging between my legs;” the monologues are “discussions” with the audience and not just man-baiting diatribes.
This time out, Hunter has cast six women in multiple parts, a fairly standard approach. (In its premiere, Ensler performed all the monologues and subsequently three actresses, then five or six and so on.)
Rehearsals have been a time of growth, says Hunter, in which the actresses shared their own personal feelings – and Hunter has openly talked of her transgender pursuit and her sexual experiences. Hunter says, “As I’ve watched my ‘vaginas’ develop, I’ve seen them become more comfortable with the text,” which includes very intense – and very funny – stories.
“Monologues” and Hunter’s transgender journey, like Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel “Middlesex,” pose alternate views of sexuality for the 21st century. And describe the many ambivalent social roles for sexual visionaries: Hunter says that she must be very careful, for example, to check “male” when completing medical forms, since she is undergoing treatment to nullify the negative effects of that status; if she checked “female” she would be “cured.”
Since the age of 4, when Hunter spoke of her feelings to her mother – who was not accepting – she suppressed them, becoming an outsider to her own self. Alcohol helped to keep the secret under control, but bouts of sobriety (12 years, relapse, six years, relapse) only exacerbated the conflict. Now four years sober and in a loving relationship – Hunter’s third marriage – Amy, formerly known as William, feels that she understands the conflict, perhaps without the cloudiness that Joni Mitchell did in her pop anthem, “Both Sides Now.”
This is the point of view that Hunter brings to the cast and production of “The Vagina Monologues,” adding, “There is a saying in the 12-step program that ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets.’ That’s wrong. It’s not your secrets that are sick, but keeping them secret that makes us sick.”

(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
PREVIEW:
‘The Vagina Monologues’
Whole Art Theatre, at the Epic Center Theatre, 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall, Kalamazoo. Sept. 13-15, 21-22 and 28-29. Tickets: $20. For information: 269-345-7529 or http://www.wholeart.org

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.