Not only is Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues sexy, witty, tragic, and downright hilarious, it's also quite an educational experience. For example, I learned the clitoris contains more than 8,000 nerve endings - which is twice as many as the penis. As one actor said, "Why have a handgun when you can have a semi-automatic?" Talk about woman power.

On March 1 and 2, the Quad Cities and Muscatine were filled with the spirit of The Vagina Monologues as part of a worldwide campaign to stop violence against females. Throughout February and March, playwright Ensler gives free production rights to any group that is presenting the Monologues as part of a "V-Day" benefit. As the playbill defines it, V-Day is "a palpable energy, a fierce catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations." So not only did local audiences experience an invigorating performance; they also donated funds to the Rape/Sexual Assault Counseling & Advocacy Program of Family Resources organizations in the Quad Cities and Muscatine.

After two successful years of presenting The Vagina Monologues, producer, actor, and board member Lori Mariner thinks the benefit could become an annual event in the Quad Cities. Because auditions are open to all women, Mariner says this is a good chance for both professional and amateur actors to donate their time to a good cause.

The idea for Ensler's play simply evolved from what she called her "fascination with vaginas." She interviewed hundreds of women of all ages, inquiring about their vaginas - when was the last time they looked at it, what would their vagina say if it could talk, what would it wear, etc. Ensler used some of the most exciting, tragic, or funny responses to comprise her series of "vagina monologues."

On the surface, this play tells these individual women's stories, from occurrences of domestic violence in one Native American woman's household to a 72-year-old's opinions about an orgasmic experience she refers to as "the flood." But Ensler also effectively captures a sense of unity among all women. In the monologue "My Angry Vagina," for example, actor Janee Jackson broods and fusses about tampons, gynecologists, and other things that "make my vagina angry." This play is incredibly effective, and the Quad Cities performance lived up to the powerful script.

The stage was designed very artistically, using various styles of chairs in a line along the back curtain. One large orange chair stood center stage, which nicely isolated the individual performer during her monologue. Red lighting emphasized moods, and a large projector screen behind the actors flashed appropriate images during each monologue.

All 11 actresses seemed properly chosen for their monologue. I didn't stop laughing during Mariner's moan-filled "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy," Kathleen Hobson's "Because He Liked to Look at It," and the previously mentioned "My Angry Vagina." All three actors captured a comedic effect when discussing a subject that's usually considered out-of-bounds.

I was near tears during Jeri J. Benson's "Crooked Braid" and Sarah Cullen's representation of a woman from Bosnia whose genitals were mutilated, in "My Vagina Was My Village." These segments present the sad fact that millions of women are raped and domestically abused each year.

The overall fluctuation of emotions in these monologues makes them special. But it's far from the only thing. The Vagina Monologues is a brilliant, beautiful celebration of women, the love of self, and the appreciation of the body.

Still Time to Catch the Wizard

Dorothy, the Tin Man, Toto, and the Munchkins will only be skipping down the yellow brick road for a few more weeks. The Wizard of Oz runs through March 29 at Circa '21.

Wizard is pretty much like the movie version - bright, imaginative, and pretty cheesy. Audiences should prepare themselves to hear "We're Off to See the Wizard" about four times, and to be let down by the lack of special effects during the appearances of the Wicked Witch of the West.

The set consists of an interesting swirl-shaped walk-ramp, which is creatively used throughout the show. Costumes are colorful and attractive, especially Lion's huge fuzzy tail and the Tin Man's metallic body suit. Visually, most of the show is engaging; it's just difficult to get into the actors' exaggerated reactions and theatrical movements. And though the singing is very professional, the recorded synthesized background music seems out-of-place accompanying live action.

The acting is also well done, with Tiana Checcahia playing a young Dorothy, and Max, a cute Schnauzer, playing Toto. Most memorable was local actor Tom Walljasper as the rubber-limbed Scarecrow. He was believable and funny, and (like most of the performers) he looked like he was having a great time on stage.

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