Special Guests: Paula Allen, Rosario Dawson, Noma Dumezweni, Dylan McDermott , Marisa Tomei, Celeste Lescene, and vocalist Taina Asili.
In 1777, 16-year-old Sybil Ludington rode nearly 40 miles to warn 400 militiamen that the British troops were coming. In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the First Women’s Rights Convention helping to write the Declaration of Sentiments, a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence. And, in 1955, African American Claudette Colvin refused to move for a white passenger—nine months before Rosa Parks would do the same.
V (formerly Eve Ensler)
In 1996, Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues opened Off Broadway. The piece is a deep dive into feminine experience – particularly of owning our own bodies; for some, a journey to the unknown. Acted by a rotating cast of celebrities, Monologues was subsequently translated into 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls, was founded February 14, 1998 when the first V-Day benefit performance took place in NYC raising over $250k for local anti-violence groups.
There are slides on the screen as we file in, images of individuals and demonstrations from all over the world. Signs say “ASK ME!”, “I Rise For Justice”, “No More!”, “It’s Not a Movement It’s a Lifestyle”, “Prison Yards Should Not Be Graveyards!”, “OMG Chump, WTF?!” Often a single finger is raised (no, not that one) in solidarity. 92Y’s Susan Engle welcomes the audience, pointing out V’s long association with the organization. This is the artist’s 12th appearance. During that time, she’s written 12 plays and ten books as well as working on four films. It’s her feet on the ground militancy, her participation however, that makes V who she is.
Marisa Tomei – background Dylan McDermott
Tonight is a celebration of the publication of Reckoning, a collection of published writing-articles, speeches, poetry, by V (for “vagina, “victory,” and “peace”)- formerly Eve Ensler. It’s also the 25th Anniversary of V-Day. Much of the audience dresses in red or at least colorfully. There are VERY few men. Women greet one another like sisters. (V herself is known for hugging rather than shaking hands.) Atmosphere is one of sharing, of openness. The auditorium buzzes.
That V is not only alive but emotionally healthy, richly fecund, and an activist leader of the first order is something of a miracle. From ages five to ten, she was sexually and physically abused by her father. Her mother seemed indifferent. “My body was never my body. I was his thing…rape makes us believe we’re not worthy of happiness.” The author wrote about her experience in 2019’s The Apology, a letter written on her father’s behalf. Upon its completion, V said she had ceased being bitter, but she no longer wanted to bear his name. The artist is additionally a survivor of uterine cancer. (See her book, In the Body of the World: “V harnesses all that she lost and learned to articulate a galvanizing vision of the essence of life: The only salvation is kindness.” – Booklist 2013)
Middlebury College knew the young woman as a militant feminist. V smoked, drank, took drugs, had a series of abusive relationships, and an abortion. At 25, she married a man who convinced her to go into rehab. V adopted his son who grew up to be actor Dylan McDermott. “He taught me how to be a loving human being.” (She divorced ten years later.) When V got sober, she began to write for the theater.
Everyone on stage is a member of V’s close knit circle of advocates. The audience gives her a standing ovation. Unlike theater attendees who rise like lemmings, these women feel individually moved. “I want to take in where we are 25 years later. We have shifted dialogue and disrupted the normal…” V begins. Cheers erupt.
Dylan McDermott, Paula Allen
There are references to advances in Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Egypt, with Indigenous Peoples, in Palestine, Kenya, where a woman, once at a safe house is now a member of parliament, and Democratic Republic of Congo, where in 2011, V-Day and Foundation Panzi (DRC) with support from UNICEF, established The City of Joy. The organization, run by Congolese women, has healed, taught, and graduated 1902 battered women and girls back into society since its founding. (City of Joy, a documentary on Netflix)
“Tonight we’re looking back and looking forward…We’re a country that is driven by five essential verbs: produce, extract, consume, erase, and win…This book is about sitting down and assessing…vulnerability and discomfort… tearing down walls and wondering why we built them. It’s about reclaiming…” V is a magnetic speaker. She stresses that reconnection is vital in an age of misinformation and the pushback against our authentic past. (See articles on Texas and the South rewriting textbooks to eliminate anything liberal/woke.) “There’s so much unfelt and unshared grief…” (See articles about increasing gun violence and perpetual war.)
Rosario Dawson – background Noma Dumezweni
Each guest (and the author) reads sections from the non chronological book set in “theme” chapters: Make Love Not Wall; Dear White Women, written to those who supported the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh; My Mother Was Not My Mother, a poem; Disaster Patriarchy, “where men exploit a crisis to reassert control and dominance, and rapidly erase hard-earned women’s rights; Here’s How We Like It, A notice to partners: “Do not come at us. Visit. Nestle up…Pretend there’s all the time in the world…Don’t do that paw thing…Hold us okay? Hold us when you think it’s over”; Who Will We Become Without Touch, authored at the height of COVID; The Bureau of Sex Slavery: “The ISIS Sex Slave Market listing (2015) included women and girls on the same list as cattle. Women ages forty to fifty were priced at $40, women thirty to forty at $69, women twenty to thirty $86, girls one to nine $172.”(We’d have a better sense of journey were it chronological.)
The Book – Courtesy of Bloomsbury Press
Both this evening and the book contain diary-like pieces and those meant to illuminate, the latter never pedantic or preachy. To V, everything is personal, everything collective. Some are tense, others ineluctably harrowing; some exude sensuality and appetite, others evoke laughter; some make one want to take to the barricades, others to reach out and comfort. They’re raw and candid, empathetic, thoughtful, painful, passionate, joyful, and evangelistic. It’s a lot to take in.
At the end of the evening, vocalist Taina Asili sangs a rousing rendition of “We Are Rising.”
People got up and danced.
As I write, there are unspeakable things happening to women all over the world. Our own Supreme Court is subjugating females. Still, the force of change is also in motion. As V says, we may not have fixed everything, but there’s progress. “The whole world is a story of someone’s making.” A remarkable woman. A remarkable movement.
All photos excluding Book by Bryan Bedder-Getty Images for V Day – Courtesy of Getty Images and V Day
Opening: Noma Dumezweni, Marisa Tomei, Dylan McDermott, V (Formerly Eve Ensler), Rosario Dawson, Tony Montenieri, Taina Asili, Paula Allen, Celeste Lecesne
Recanati-Kaplan Talks at the 92Y present
An Evening of Reckoning and Rising with V (formerly Eve Ensler)
Special Guests: Paula Allen, Rosario Dawson, Noma Dumezweni, Dylan McDermott, Marisa Tomei, Celeste Lescene, and vocalist Taina Asili
The book: Reckoning – Bloomsbury Publishing
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