Every woman has one

Margot Kidder, headliner of The Vagina Monologues, talks about women, sex and American prudishness

Margot Kidder will headline <i>The Vagina Monologues</i>.

Margot Kidder will headline The Vagina Monologues.

byCarli Cutchin

From a hotel room in Alberta, Canada, on Valentine’s Day morning, actress Margot Kidder tells me to hold. She’s got a rich, gravelly voice—the urbane, almost roguishly masculine voice of a screen siren. Kidder—best known for her role as Lois Lane in the Superman films—tells me she needs a cup of coffee.

“If you hold on, I will put coffee in my cup,” she says. “My daughter won’t even talk to me if I haven’t had my coffee.”

It’s 11 a.m., her time. The night before, she headlined the Vagina Monologues in Banff—a town with “the Rocky Mountains looming up on either side.”

“It’s so beautiful,” the gravelly voice says. “I can’t even tell you.”

Kidder, who was born and raised in Canada and now lives in Livingston, Mont., has been traveling with Vagina for the past year and half, and will make her way to Reno for a series of Pioneer Center performances beginning Feb. 25. When she first read the Eve Ensler script—crafted from interviews the playwright conducted with women of varied ages and heritages—Kidder admits she “didn’t quite get it.” Only when Kidder read the words aloud did she begin to feel their power. And it wasn’t until seeing it performed for the first time by other actors—a full eight months after she began to tour the show herself—that the humor of the monologues really hit.

“You get a big smile on your face. You knew that there was a great feel, a great vibe, as we used to say in the ‘50s. … These pieces have a brilliant timing built in.”

Since they were first performed in New York in 1996, the monologues have earned critical acclaim, including an OBIE Award for Ensler. The show’s unapologetic candor, however, has also left some conservatives with their panties in a bunch. The very mention of the word “vagina,” Kidder says, gets many people bristling. She blames a surge of fundamentalist Christianity in America.

“Even Jesus came out of a vagina, for God’s sake.”

Kidder says the monologues are “about celebrating our femaleness.”

“Women, for some reason that baffles me, are scared to say they’re feminists,” Kidder says. She adds that in many ways it was easier to be female in the 1960s: The women’s movement at that time gave women permission to talk openly about their bodies, to refuse to stay pinned under the thumb of shame and guilt.

“We neglected to think we’d need to do this again,” she says of the women’s movement.

The monologues have been performed on big-name stages—in America and abroad—by big-name actresses; they’ve also been performed in towns across America by local women. (Last year, students at the University of Nevada, Reno, performed the monologues.) Sets are simple and the readings—rarely accompanied by props—aren’t particularly high-handed or stagy. The actresses assume the identities of abuse victims from the South, aging spinsters remembering their first sexual encounters and middle-class white women who are afraid of their clitorises.

“They all have a poignancy,” Kidder says. “I think it’s really rare for a woman to go to the show and not find one thing [to appreciate].”

And men, when they do come, seem to love it. Kidder remembers one show where the audience was filled with those who do not have vaginas.

“In the front row, there were these large, hard, studly men.” It turned out to be a bachelor party. When Kidder performed the story of a sex worker—a monologue that comes complete with moans and groans—"they were laughing themselves silly.”

Kidder herself laughs at the memory, that rich, knowing, sexy voice turning into a hearty cackle you want to hear again and again.