Stories about sex are funny, exciting, even embarrassing – particularly stories about losing one’s virginity. But can they also count as theatre? My First Time, another example of the type of non-narrative driven performance populating New World Stages. The show is based on the website of the same name – MyFirstTime.com – founded by Peter Foldy and Craig Stuart. Four actors, two male (Bill Dawes and Josh Heine) and two female (Kathy Searle and Cydnee Welburn) take turns reciting anecdotes of various length in the voice of those who submitted them.
These submissions do not just come from the website, however. All audience members also fill out a card asking questions about their own first times (including questions like where it happened, if they felt pressured, and what they would say to their other partner if they saw them today). The four actors also recite material from these cards onstage, saving much embarrassment by keeping these quotes anonymous. It’s not clear if all of these cards come from the audience at the current show or if some have been pre-selected.
First follows the same delivery format as Spalding Grey: Stories Left to Tell and The Vagina Monologues. They take turns relaying anecdotes, in no evident order, as directed by Ken Davenport. He produced and wrote as well, adapting his monologues from the site, acknowledging the submissions by saying the play was written by "Real People Just Like You." And indeed, a lot of these experiences will sound familiar to the audience. Most of these stories are humorous and sweetly nostalgic: awkward teenagers, fun one-night-stands. Occasionally, the subject matter gets heavier. Welburn tells the story of a woman in the 1960s pressured into public and group sex, then forced to futilely use a soda concoction as birth control. Searle has the most moving monologue, as a teenager who loses her virginity to her sick brother before he dies. Searle has a magnificent presence. She commands the stage at all times, with a delivery able to delineate amusement, disgust and tenderness whenever necessary – sometimes even at the same time. Even if she only has a few minutes to recite a monologue, when she is done, she has always drawn a unique and full-bodied “character.”
Heine and Dawes at one point share a dual encounter, reciting different perspectives about a rape. I found this scene a little confusing and not entirely enlightening. I also had a different problem with it. Counselors encourage survivors of incest and rape to view their first consensual act of sex as the loss of their virginity, making such stories either insensitive or moot. However, both actors are impressive, if for different reasons. Dawes suggests a shiftiness, a sense that there is more lurking underneath what he says. Heine, on the other hand, projects a sweet sense of genuineness, a sort of Everyman character in each of his monologues. I’m interested to see what else he could play with charm like that. If Welburn never quite hits one out of the park, it’s because Davenport never quite gives her the opportunity to do so.
Still, Davenport creates a show in First that is far more substantive than it might have been. He takes a sensational topic and turns it into an instrument by which he reminds everyone in the room that their similarities greatly outnumber their differences.