We’ve come a long way since the 1990s, when Eve Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues to empower women to talk about their genitalia. Now the body part that Oprah and my three-year-old daughter call the vajayjay is out there in all its glory. Witness the 2012 Toronto Fringe hit Pomme is French for Apple, a show whose coyness begins and ends with its title.
At the start of this frank, funny, two-woman cabaret, remounted to wrap up the Young Centre’s winter series, creator-stars Liza Paul and Bahia Watson quickly disabuse us of any illusion that we’re about to get a French lesson. While “pomme” may be apple en français, “pum” or “pum pum” is West Indian patois for the vagina, and these brash Caribbean Canadians are going to talk about little else for the next 70 minutes. Indeed, by the end of the performance you might feel pummelled by pum.
And Paul and Watson don’t just talk about pum, either – they also portray pum in every shape and state. They are itchy pum, trapped in too-tight pants. They are “dry and lonely” pum, longing for a “gentleman caller.”
The duo accomplishes these anatomical impersonations with delightful simplicity, by wearing large pink scarves that, whipped over their heads, turn them into large pink vaginas. The folds mimic the labia, while the hooded head poking out becomes a chattering clitoris. They offer a pum’s eye view, as it were, of sex, hygiene and the perils of today’s form-fitting fashions.
When not giving voice to vulvae, Watson and Paul play various, mostly West Indian women in a string of saucy, comic exchanges and perform some funky little songs. The latter include a reggae number on that eternal question – to douche or not to douche? – and a calypso ditty about raging libidos. But sadly, they don’t favour us with a live version of I Flow Heavy, the witty menstrual rap they’ve posted on YouTube.
There also isn’t much discussion of the vagina’s function as the birth canal, but then this is mainly a young single woman’s show. Whenever it strays beyond the crotch, it’s to talk about boyfriends and dating, and to mock ignorant male behaviour. A series of tiny vignettes culminates in a recital of bad pickup lines (“You have the posterior of a Namibian goddess”). There are also musings on why women have to glam up and preen to get men’s attention, when in the animal kingdom it’s the male’s job to attract the female.
Pomme belongs to that bracing wave of candid, liberating and gleefully gross female humour unleashed by the likes of 30 Rock, Girls and Bridesmaids – there are even skits about farting. But it also offers a distinctly West Indian perspective on womanhood. Indeed, at times Paul and Watson’s accents are so thick and slang-heavy that you may have to strain to catch the jokes.
Paul tends to be the sweet, staid foil to Watson, who takes on the brassier roles. The boyish actress does a hilarious turn as a Bible-thumping preacher whose overheated imagery conflates sexual and religious ecstasy. And she also sets your head spinning as a traditional West Indian mother who launches into a tirade on the dangers of sex after her daughter (Paul) meekly asks if she can go on a date.
In its Young Centre incarnation, Pomme is still very much a no-budget production, with just a table, a couple of chairs and a pair of microphones. It also suffers from a problem common with successful Fringe shows: In the context of a festival full of work of varying quality, it was outstanding; seen on its own, however, it feels a bit thin. But add that I Flow Heavy song, beef up some of the skimpier skits and these vagina dialogues could be really pum-tastic.