The West Chester University Theatre production of Jane Martin’s “Vital Signs” was, at once, both poignant and comical, funny and sad. Through monologues, music, and dance, the performers, directed by Jay Berkowitz, chair of the theatre arts department, gave the audience a realistic and varied portrayal of what it is like to be a woman in modern American society. The show, which ran from Feb. 17 through 22, 2004 in the E.O. Bull mainstage, was a partnership between the WCU Contemporary Dance Group, under the direction of Gretchen Studlien-Webb, and the West Chester Theatre Company.
The dance group performed to powerful songs by female artists, such as Ani DiFranco’s “32 Flavors,” which opened the show. The dancers, Moira Byko, Emily Horstmann, Alicia Kelly, Gina Piccone, and Jennifer Rose were used to accent the powerful themes expressed by the cast. Some of the dancers also choreographed their routines, which were both emotionally stimulating and beautiful to watch. The last scene of the show, set to the song “Hallelujah,” involved the cast dancing among the dance group in a moving piece that provided a strong closing for the show.
The show was performed in two acts, each act broken down into 18 monologues with titles such as “Cocaine Hotline,” “Nintendo Woman,” and “Spiderman.” These monologues, performed both individually and in small groups, gave the audience a chance to experience the essence of woman-hood from several vantage points.
The cast of “Vital Signs” included seven women: Katie Brady, Jessi Cooke, Kate Iezzoni, Maria Maloney, Megan Moore, Nicole “Zita” Ramsay, and Rebeca Torres and two men, Chris Plough and Chris Triebel. With only seven women and 36 separate mono-logues, it was necessary for both the women and the men to take on many roles as many different women.
The play, in order to raise money for the WCU Student Endowment Fund, also featured performances by guest artists. These artists include Kathryn Cilcote, Darla Coffey, Anita Foeman, Robin Garrett, Elaine Jenks, Stacy Schlau, and West Chester University President Madeleine Wing Adler.
Highlights of the show included Maria Maloney’s hilarious performance as a high-strung, Diet Coke-deprived receptionist in “Cocaine Hotline;” Kate Iezzoni’s portrayal of a woman discovering and expressing true love for the first time in “I Love You;” Rebeca Torres in both her roles as a Puerto Rican cocktail waitress who gets no respect in “Hors D’oeuvres” and as a reminiscent woman recalling her one and only interaction with her uninvolved father, in “Father’s Circle.”
Possibly the most powerful of the monologues was Megan Moore’s eloquent portrayal of an emotionally and physically abused housewife, driven to murder by her husband’s unceasing abuse. Though she spoke of the incident matter-of-factly and in an unemotional tone, Moore conveyed a sense of utter hopelessness and despair. She portrayed a character to which almost any woman can relate, be it a sister, a mother, a friend, or the woman herself.
“Vital Signs” was an excellent performance, particularly for women. It may be difficult for some men to relate to the struggles and challenges these women, and all women, face every day. However, the performance was well-prepared, the actors were believable and easy to relate with, and the dancing was visually exciting and incorporated the themes and emotions of the characters. Under the direction of Berkowitz, it was a powerful, complex, and a thoroughly enjoyable performance.