The V Word

The “Vagina Grandmother” brings famous feminist production back to Providence

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It was the year 1999 in Boston when Nancy Rafi first saw Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues. Midway through the performance of “My Vagina Was My Village” – about women who survived sex slavery – a woman in the audience fainted. “The house lights came up, the woman was escorted into the lobby with a therapist and a doctor, and Ensler talked about the power of theater,” remembers Rafi. “My life was changed right there.” She signed up to produce her own V-Day production, sold out all 550 seats at Jane Pickens Theater in Newport, and raised nearly $10,000. Today, Nancy is known as the “Vagina Grandmother” for being the longest-running hostess of V-Day productions worldwide.

For those who might not know, V-Day invites people to produce their own Vagina Monologues production – as long as all proceeds go toward local organizations working to end violence against women and girls in their communities. Each year during V-season (February 1-March 8), nearly 1,400 productions of the play appear around the globe.

“Eve’s play is a compilation of women’s stories,” explains Rafi. “The play is hysterically funny, but it’s also deeply educational.” Topics, she says, explore infidelity, pubic hair, gynecologist visits, sexual assault, homelessness, and several other issues that affect women. “Because of the subject matter, each of my productions always include licensed therapists and counselors in the audience that are available to sit with anyone in the foyer who might need to process their reactions to the play and the topics discussed,” she adds.

Rafi has hosted shows in Newport, Providence, East Greenwich, Wickford, and Cranston. She’s close friends with Eve Ensler herself, has brushed elbows with celebrities like Jane Fonda, Jennifer Hudson, and Kerry Washington, and brought her cast to NYC for workshops and to meet people like Dylan McDermott who are connected with the V-Day movement. This year’s V-Day is significant to Rafi for two reasons: It marks her 20th year of producing the play, and it’s the first time in nearly a decade that it will return to Providence.

While local colleges and universities have hosted V-Day productions, and Rafi has held a few for the community at Avon Theater and Elmwood Community Center (in Spanish), there’s been nothing within the last 10 years or so. “I thought it was about time to bring it back to the capital city!”

Rafi’s V-Day production will take over the Renaissance Marriott hotel on February 29. Seventeen Rhode Island women will take the stage to read the monologues, along with music and projection, and proceeds will benefit the RI Crisis Assistance Center.

“It’s been a life-changing experience for me,” says Rafi, “and I’m proud to continue my association with V-Day.”