There are twelve stitches in the vagina when ritual circumcision is performed on a woman so she will no longer be able to feel sexual pleasure. There are twelve tribes in the Bible. While comparing it with the Koran in twelve monologues inevitable conclusions are drawn by four women performers in ART's one week tour of The Veiled Monologues at Zero Arrow Theatre, Cambridge.
It is abundantly evident that the players have worked together intimately, fearfully, fearlessly and it's worth reading the program's history to fully comprehend. Their body language reeks familiarity, when appropriate and necessary, fear, contempt, male and/or female hormones.
There is old history here, there, everywhere. More importantly, there is underlying respect for the joys, loves, sorrows, pain in these women's tales that somehow echo Chaucer.
The tales were collected by the creator/director Adelheid Roosen after being inspired by The Vagina Monologues in Amsterdam in which she and the other players acted. The echoes of her country's free love resound hollowly to the Muslim women she interviewed who believe that although they are physically veiled many westerners are sexually veiled.
Further sexual freedom doesn't mean love with western minds' eyes veiled by fear especially of circumcisions that are not considered within the context of culture. This monologue is aptly portrayed in The Twelve Little Bells.
Yes there is fear, repression, lack of respect for Islamic women as they lose their hymens.
Tales of rape, violations worse than can be conceived, torture of the mind, body, spirit and soul bared but there is also survival, rebirth, motherhood, love between women, both physical and spiritual.
Viewing their vaginas through shattered mirrors is true genius. There's also freedom for them when incest is welcomed, even tolerated, part of society, culture. Can the divide, here represented by the sexual organ, between east and west ever be bridged especially since 9/11? Is it as wide as the circumcision is deep, temporarily stitched together, meant to re tear, to deceive men with false AND real bloodshed to reassure fragile egos. Veils, masks...must they be worn?
Are not women the real bearers of pain, survivors of childbirth, repression, fear, isolation, mutilation, horrible mental and/or physical tests in the form of abuse, abortion, either unveiled and dancing joyfully themselves in a harem or fully impaled by the same women, family members, with wagging tongues creating scars deeper than circumcision, war, loss of children, spouses to "infidel" wars?
A stitch in time saves nine. When enlarged to twelve what quilted tapestry is revealed...needlework no longer merely regulated to women and the home...threads, warp and weft, most divine.
Hester Prynne or women from Saudi Arabia, Somalian, Kuwait, Pakistan, Morocco, Turkey, Mali, Iraq, Iran, what does it matter? Scarlet A's. Told with belly laughs and belly dancing these tales are meant to be savored, contemplated long after the memorable performance has ended. Spicy food and teas begin and end some performances, shared food for thought, meant to enrich, enhance experience.
The most hilarious part? Three "procedures" to reattach hymens or other parts...east meets west with an unworkable solution that is riotously funny in the form of a serious lecture.
You laugh or you cry. Your choice. The audience and myself did both.
The music? So seductively Scherezading throughout the difficult embroidery is played on ancient satz so artfully that it weaves among the voices in truly beautiful expression, sometimes gay, sometimes tortured. As significant as that is this show would be no less
triumphant if the music were Carole King's Tapestry or Joni Mitchell's Clouds.
Needlework once reviled as mere women's work is finally highly prized as artistic historic masterpieces that tell key human stories. Pieced together bits of waste like the hymen. No need to remind "better" halves that stitch wizardry applies to hearth and home. Women are keepers of the sacred flame, the power to create, destroy, forge, transform.
This show is ultimately that and so much more. Relish for the mind, body and soul.