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Student play explores sex, faith

Karen Langley | Friday, February 24, 2006

Less than two weeks after the curtains fell on this year’s hotly-debated “The Vagina Monologues,” another set of monologues exploring sexuality will take the academic stage at Notre Dame. But “The Primrose Path,” a student-written documentary, infuses its discussions of sexuality with perspectives of love and faith – a distinction that playwright Anna Nussbaum says will test whether Notre Dame’s traditionally volatile reaction to the “Monologues” is truly a result of the performance’s lack of religious character.

“If the concern is there is no religious perspective in ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ come to my play,” she said. “If what we’re really squeamish about is issues of sexuality, that will become clear.”

Included in its assortment of monologues on sexuality – researched and collected during Nussbaum’s junior summer, courtesy of a UROP (undergraduate research opportunity) grant – are explorations of both female and male sexuality, religion, morality, love, marriage, transgender issues, abortion, celibacy, virginity, pornography and pregnancy.

“These are issues that really interest our community but are always talked about in theory,” she said. “These [monologues] are about practice. These are actual people, and there’s something so powerful about that.”

Nussbaum’s interviewees include “everything from [her] parish priest to [her] ex-boyfriend to people [she] met on the street or in the phone book.”

Most monologues are based on a single interview, but a few are compilations. In selecting the monologues, Nussbaum attempted to represent various perspectives within the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish traditions, as well as nonreligious views.

“[In ‘The Primrose Path,’] there are conservatives, liberals, atheists and orthodox believers all onstage together,” she said. “It gives them a chance to speak with dignity and be not just labels but human beings.”

Like “The Vagina Monologues,” “The Primrose Path” will be performed in an academic setting – in this case, the Mendoza Auditorium.

Nussbaum said if productions involving sexuality are downplayed at the University, even orthodox believers risk sacrificing the broadcasting of their views.

“The problem is that the Catholic perspective is squashed as well,” she said.

Though issues of sexuality are often politicized, Nussbaum said at its core, sexuality is simply “a human issue.”

She expressed uncertainty about how the campus would react to her production.

“I hope well,” she said. “I have no idea. I hope people come with open minds and hearts. I think it’s different from what they’ve seen before.”

Approaching controversial issues with an open mind is essential to intelligent discourse, Nussbaum said.

“I don’t have an agenda about what is the right way to live your life,” she said. “I think the right way to live life is to think seriously about it, and that’s what the play encourages people to do.”

Throughout the production’s development, Nussbaum received writing advising from English professor Valerie Sayers and staging advising from theology department chair John Cavadini.