A vagina by any other name

Lindsay Burns’s latest skewers American pop culture and regressive behaviour

When playwright-performer Lindsay Burns returned home to Calgary in 2008 after taking her one-woman show The Vajayjay Monologues to the Winnipeg and New York Fringe Festivals she didn’t envision the show’s 2010 revival. And she certainly didn’t envision her reasons for reviving it.

“There was talk of doing the show in Calgary again” Burns recalls. “But I thought: Maybe its time has passed.”

What changed? “Calgary became the tryout town for all these right-wing people like George W. Bush Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter” says Burns ruefully.

Burns sees her show as a philosophical counterpoint to the conservative mindset of those personalities but as the title suggests The Vajayjay Monologues is more about the politics of sex than of Washington. Forgoing political rhetoric in favour of a barrage of sketches musical numbers and (of course) monologues the show is crammed with wordplay incisive comedy and pop-culture call-outs.

Burns began scripting the show in 2006 when the vaginas of celebutants like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton were losing round after round of hide-and-seek to the general public; labiaplasty was the hot new plastic surgery; and Oprah had begun throwing the word "vajayjay" around like the latest surprise gift to her studio audience. For Burns — who will admit to watching quite a bit of Oprah at the time — that neologism symbolized a shifting cultural perspective on lady bits that she had to respond to onstage.

The 2010 remount (ahem) of The Vajayjay Monologues will be familiar to those who caught it the first time around but the show has been extensively updated and polished in the three years since. With more connecting monologues and clearer arcs this month’s production should feel every bit as fresh as the original 2007 run. “A lot of references to current events had to be updated and there are more pieces in it to reflect more of what women are going through at this time” says Burns.

Over the three years since The Vajayjay Monologues ’ première in Calgary she’s identified the frustrating trends she addressed in that show as "growing and morphing." "There’s no longer the showing of anatomy in public” she says “but we are seeing a desperate need for fame.”

So Burns’s definition of the word vajayjay has shifted to keep up: "Vajayjay went from anatomy to identity” she says. “It’s now: ‘These girls are acting like vajayjays.’ It was never a term of endearment; it’s a term used for girls out of control."

Throughout The Vajayjay Monologues Burns plays a half-dozen age- and globe-spanning characters exploring a wide range of sexual and reproductive issues with wit but also with worry — a pervasive and mostly unspoken worry that women these days are making very poor choices. Whether through a Jewish grandmother flabbergasted by the birth-control options available to her granddaughter or through that same granddaughter struggling with the sixth grade social scene Burns establishes confusion as the hallmark of modern womanhood.

Ultimately Burns chooses to embrace this confusion rather than answering it. Despite the scathing spotlight that her Monologues cast on the vajayjays of politics and pop culture the show is inextricable from its inspirations — its cutting-edge references are key to the show’s accessibility. Even as the effects of mass-media indoctrination are questioned through rapid-fire lambastes of figures like Snooki Tiger Woods and Bombshell McGee audiences will still need to have had a healthy intake of The Daily Show or US Weekly .

"I think we take in a lot of media without even realizing what we’re taking in” says Burns. “My show hopefully is going to help us to stop and consider what’s coming in and whether or not it’s benign. It’s a way of saying: ‘OK so here’s where we’ve gotten to. This isn’t where we need to get to we haven’t solved the questions of feminism at all but this can’t be where we’re stopping.’"

The Vajayjay Monologues may not hold the great answers of feminist pride or power but its thought-provoking madcap exploration of the issues at hand will certainly not move us further away from them. Burns is willing to guarantee one thing at least: "You’ll have as much fun as you did at Ann Coulter."