My First Time
Original Off-Broadway production directed and produced by Ken Davenport
A BestOfOffBroadway.com production
Directed by Jeff Szusterman
at Fortune Theatre, Dunedin
From 21 Aug 2009 to 12 Sep 2009
Reviewed by Terry MacTavish, 22 Aug 2009
The format is extremely simple - four actors sit on chairs facing the audience, and recount the stories of some of the thousands who have written in. The website has been running for a decade, so there were plenty of first-time tales for Davenport to choose from. And they are the real thing: the text of each letter is recited verbatim, though not necessarily in full. While some stories develop slowly, often the script skips speedily through sound bites on a particular topic, like venue (many many cars) which can have a hilariously cumulative effect.
In recognition of the need to keep the sense of public ownership, the audience are given a survey to fill in before the show, regarding of course their own first time. The results of this are quickly collated, and then projected onto the plain back wall of the stage, or read out by the actors, who manage to keep it feeling personal. "Did everyone else's first time suck as badly as ours did?"
These four engaging actors are essentially narrators, but do their best to flesh out the characters they fleetingly portray. All display great skill with their swift changes of accent, mostly American (though my favourite was actually Welsh) and the longer stories do allow them to convey some empathy. They are somewhat trapped in their chairs, but director Jeff Szusterman has seized any opportunities to permit them some action. Most memorable for me was the cast creating a rush hour subway carriage, jigging as they hung from straps, while one lucky guy found himself shoved into thrilling contact with someone who simply smiled...
Roy Snow, chilling as a brutal biker-bar owner who crosses the line between seduction and rape, later has a delightful cameo, stomping and ranting as an appalled bible-banging preacher who damns us all to hell. "I will never visit this site again!"
Kristian Lavercombe, meanwhile, makes the most of his endearingly naive persona, employing melting eyes to advantage, as he tells the tales of alarmingly innocent lads learning, usually with startled delight, just what it's all about.
Charming Jacque Drew ('First of all, I am not a slut') clearly enjoys her many comic roles, and is great at being cheerfully lewd, yet handles with real sensitivity a potentially disturbing story of incest.
Danielle Mason is similarly touching, in her account of fulfilling sex with a lover who has cerebral palsy, "Take notice of any tigers in wheelchairs... he might be the ticket to a happy life". She is then equally convincing in a hideously depressing story of the more sordid side of sex, involving a coca cola douche, rather than true love.
The appeal of the show is very like the addictive reading of comments on any website, www.theatreview.org for instance, - you absolutely have to flick on to the next, in case it is the oyster that contains the pearl. As theatre goes, just like the website, My First Time is more of a time-filler than an enlightenment. Entertaining enough in a reality-TV way, but lacking the political bite of, say, The Vagina Monologues.
This does not seem to bother the audience, who on opening night at the Fortune responded with delighted laughter, and departed in a bubbly mood that could well bear out the assertion projected onto the backdrop, that 100% of them would be inspired to have sex after the show. After all, as one bright person in our audience wrote on their survey form, aren't you glad it gets better with experience?
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See also reviews by:
Barbara Frame (Otago Daily Times);