July 28, 2007

Letdown by "My First Time"

The foreplay leading up to My First Time, a new play about people's first sexual experiences at New World Stages, is great. New World Stages used to be a cineplex and it still looks and functions like one. A really hip and funky one. "Theater 5," said the usher, scanning my ticket in the street level lobby and pointing me towards the escalator that descends two levels. On the first is a full-bar—not one of those little stands that you find at the back of traditional theaters, but a full bar, complete with tables, specialty cocktails and a menu that features dishes like Shrimp Quesadillas and Beef Carpaccio; if I'd known, I would have gotten there earlier.

But I arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the pre-show treats inside Theater 5. First there was the music.
Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up" was playing when I walked in and each succeeding song title referred to sex, either outright or by naughty innuendo. They were all the kind of frisky romps that you hear at summertime discos and it was hard not to dance to them. Some people at the performance I attended didn't even try to restrain themselves but just bopped to their seats. A guy wearing one of those strap-around–the-neck trays that beer vendors carry at baseball games walked the aisles hawking candy and other snacks. A big screen on stage flashed cards that gave information about the sexual practices of people around the world (the average age people in foreign countries first have sex seems to be around 18), in the U.S. (the average age for Americans is around 14) and in the audience ("There are no virgins in this audience," read one frame). On each seat sat a Bic pen and a blue card with questions like "Where were you when you lost your virginity?" and "Do you still keep in touch with him/her?" An usher collected the questionnaires and the onscreen information seemed to change as they were reviewed backstage ("There are two virgins in this audience," a later screen corrected) The folks in the nearly sold-out audience ranged from giggling grey-haired ladies to canoodling couples to five navel-baring twentysomethings in my row who may have been a bachelorette party. Traditionalists are sure to disapprove but everybody there was in a party mood and I liked the idea that seeing a play was being made as much fun as going to the movies and with ticket prices starting at $25, not too much more expensive.

The show, alas, wasn't nearly as much fun. Four young actors—Bill Dawes,
Cydnee Welburn, Josh Heine, and the very good Kathy Searlerecite stories culled from the 40,000 entries that people from around the world have posted on the website myfirsttime.com over the last 10 years (click here to read them yourself). Some of the tales are funny, some poignant, a few tragic but they all whip by so quickly that they blur. The bachelorettes sitting next to me were leaning forward with anticipation as the lights went down but they were slumped in their seats by the end of the 80-minute performance. Ken Davenport, who produced, directed and wrote the show, has tried to draw parallels to Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues but Ensler shaped her interviews with women about their sex lives into real characters, involving narratives and a true emotional relationship with her audiences. My First Time is just a summer fling with a cute but empty-headed kid.

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