March 19, 2003
Working at home: Margot Kidder in Bozeman tour of feminist play

BY DEON LACKEY, WEEKLY STAFF WRITER

Since when is feminism fun? Since a trio of actresses take a stage to go “down there” in Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues.”

“They’re funny, they’re riotously funny,” said Margot Kidder, the original Lois Lane and performer in the Monologues, coming to Bozeman next week. “You’d have to be the biggest pickle on the planet not to laugh.”

Of course, when Kidder was first approached to do excerpts for the show, she admits that she didn’t realize how funny it was. She wasn’t interested at all, but Dee Van Jan from the Tri-County Domestic and Sexual Abuse Hotline (?check name?) begged her to do a show for their annual fundraiser, and Kidder agreed. It wasn’t until she got on the stage and saw the audience’s reaction that she realized the power behind the play. “I called up the producers in Toronto right away,” she remembered, “and I’ve been doing them on and off ever since.

“You get this feeling of sisterhood, for older women, that some of us lost after the ‘60’s and ‘70’s,” Kidder reflected. “For younger women, it’s really life-changing, because there’s nothing out there telling them what feminism is. The perception of feminism has (become) that it was about hating men. It was a negative force, asking women to cut off part of your femininity.” That couldn’t be further from the truth for Kidder, who looks at feminism as embracing femininity and female-ness while “creating a situation where we have equal rights to men,” she concluded.

But the Monologues “aren’t a political didactic at all,” Kidder added. The purpose is to entertain, and Kidder, the consummate entertainer, will slip into a rough New York accent to describe the monologue from an old woman who hasn’t even thought about “down there” since 1953. “She can’t even say the word ‘vagina,’” Kidder laughed. “It’s quite funny.”

The Monologues are based on Ensler’s talks with 200 women, and evolved into 13 monologues about women’s perceptions of “down there.” Some are funny, a couple dealing with rape or incest are tragic, but all seem real, according to Kidder, who’s performed all but one of them. “It’s like trying to decide between your three best girlfriends, who’s the best,” she said. “You like them all for different reasons. They can relate directly to you. They really cover the whole spectrum.”

While issues like equal pay for equal work, childcare, stopping violence against women, and abortion remain huge issues for women in America, and the Monologues does deal with them, the biggest hurdle the play crosses is addressing the shame that follows all of these problems. “Shame is a real crippler,” Kidder reflected, “and it’s excess baggage we don’t need.

“I’m so excited because my friends get to see what I do,” she added. “It’s so great to do something you’re really proud of. It is so funny and so positive.”

Kidder hopes to bring some of that positive fun back to her home in the wake of troubles like the war in Iraq. The day after September 11,  Kidder performed the monologues, and it was a cathartic experience both for her and for the audience. “You could just feel the need for the release of something positive. It was an unusually moving, very powerful evening,” she said. “It’s a real communal experience. There’s a give and take with the audience you don’t find in a traditional theater.  You’re not talking to other actors, you’re talking to the audience.”

Originally, the promoters wanted to bring the show to Billings, but Kidder pushed hard for them to take it to Bozeman. “It’s the whole she-bang, finally,” she said. She really wants to sell out both nights, not just for the sake of this show, but so the promoters will bring other productions to the area.

The Vagina Monologues, OBIE-award winner in 1996, has become a cultural icon since its first tour in 1999. Tickets are currently on sale at the Albertson’s in Bozeman and Belgrade, the MSU Box Office, and Charge-by-Phone at 994-2287. Tickets start at $32.50, with a $10 discount for all students. The shows are Tuesday, April 1, and Wednesday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Emerson Center in Bozeman.