Whether it be scandalous celebrity tabloids, office gossip, or a juicy overheard conversation, people’s sex lives seem to provide endless entertainment for our nosy, voyeuristic population. Taking full advantage of this basic fact, Tantra Entertainment presents a hilarious and emotional peek into that most private corner of everyday life with their production of Ken Davenport’s My First Time.
Now playing at DC Arts Center, the play draws upon the years of anonymous stories submitted to the Web site MyFirstTime.com since its inception in the late 90’s. The site itself is a low-rent forum where anyone can anonymously blog about their sex life, rife with exaggeration, bad grammar, offensive comments, and other common message board pitfalls. With that said, Davenport has somehow molded the Web site’s content into a surprisingly sophisticated script with great pacing, laugh out loud humor, and moments of genuine pathos.
The production unfolds as a series of interconnected monologues, wherein the actors inhabit the roles of varied anonymous storytellers. The stories offer up a bit of everything, from first loves and tender moments to scandalous one night stands and horrific episodes best left forgotten, corralled into a somewhat systematic exploration of the various psychological and physical aspects of “the first time”. There’s no real plot to speak of, just a sense of forward motion toward a general conclusion, which can be summed up as: “Everybody [eventually] does it, so let’s all just relax.”
Given the format and source material, it’s a bit much to expect Shakespeare, but the actors nonetheless excel with what they’ve been handed. Azania Dungee delivers several nuanced performances, with none more impressive than her dire warning to would-be playboys. She rages against all those that would seek to exploit emotional vulnerability and naïveté for their own pleasure, vowing public humiliation and personal ruin to any womanizer unlucky enough to cross her path. Dungee’s strength lies in her ability to buoy tense dramatic moments with bits of humor, and conversely, to ground light comedic scenes with her gravitas.
Co-star Nick Hanson proves himself adept at portraying just such a playboy, and he does so with an aggressive, sleazy charm. After several similar portrayals, he begins to seem like a one-trick pony, until he launches into a fiery rant on the sinful nature of the Web site, replete with promises of damnation and hellfire. Hanson’s wild-eyed, biblical harangue displays impressive range, quelling any questions about his ability prompted by a shaky opening-scene performance.
As a counter to Hanson’s various alpha male characters, Jameson Freeman’s laid-back facade and hidden strength serve him well in several stories of lost innocence. In perhaps the play’s best scene, his heartbreaking account of a friend’s date rape is juxtaposed with the tale of a predatory bartender’s latest conquest. Freeman’s quiet sensitivity proves devastating when matched against Hanson’s squirm-inducing boasts.
Victoria Reinsel also gives a number of commendable comedic and dramatic turns. She impresses with her command of accents and emotional range, delivering a lighthearted chronicle of a southern teenager’s first experience, followed by a poignant account of an embittered woman’s final gift to her dying brother.
The director’s clever choice to mix in audience stories, selected from a blind pre-show survey, makes for a very personal experience. It’s one thing to hear about someone else’s first time in a crowded room. It’s quite another to hear yours read out loud, albeit anonymously (cue the blushing and nervous laughter). By making the whole audience a part of the story, director Arpita Mukherjee fosters a relaxed, egalitarian atmosphere that dispels much of the awkwardness and embarrassment that frequently accompany discussions of sex.
Like sneaking a peek in someone else’s diary, My First Time is a guilty pleasure that’s too much fun to dismiss based on potentially tawdry subject matter. Topping out at just over an hour, it offers a whirlwind tour of American bedrooms, backrooms, and other more creative locales. The play gives equal consideration to the humor, tragedy, triumphs, and disappointments of that vaunted first experience, resulting in a balanced examination of love and sex that has something for everyone.
Except the kids, of course. Don’t bring the kids.
My First Time
By Ken Davenport
Directed by Arpita Mukherjee
Produced by Hersh Narola
Presented by Tantra Entertainment, in collaboration with Rasa Arts Collective
Reviewed by Ben Demers
My First Time is in town thru Nov 21, 2010, playing at:
The Burke Theatre at the Navy Memorial
November 13, 2010 – 7:00 pm, 9:00 pm
November 15, 2010 – November 19, 2010 – 7:30 pm
November 20, 2010 – 3:00 pm
November 21, 2010 – 7:30 pm