Friday, Aug. 6, 2010

BITE and My First Time

Theatre Company Re-Mounts Non-Musical Spoken Word Symphony About Losing Virginity

By Russ Bickerstaff
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In the dozen years or so since it debuted online, My First Time.Com has collected over 50,000 first-person accounts of people losing their virginity. Since the late ‘90’s, over 50,000 people have submitted stories. A few years back, playwright Ken Davenport collected text from the website into a script that had a successful run off-Broadway and has been produced various places since. Local company BITE Theatre staged a one-weekend production this past June. This weekend, for only a few more performances, BITE Theatre re-launches its production of the show.

Directed by Bo Johnson, the production stars Emmit Morgans, Tim Higgins, Shantelle Szyper and Kelly Doherty. Two actors and two actresses stand on a nearly empty stage. There are chairs. There’s a board on which white text is projected against a black background. There’s music. It’s a very slick, very minimalist production.

Thankfully, Davenport hasn’t simply perused the website, chosen his favorites and had them read in a disjointed group of monologues. The actors shift through fragments of text . . . forming them into kind of a four-part chamber symphony for spoken word. The actors quickly shift through various recurring themes and motifs. People are often felt pressured into having sex for the first time—there’s a place in the text that explores this. Sometimes its unexpected. Sometimes it’s planned. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes there’s bitterness that lasts a long time . . . and there are moments in the script that cover all of this.

The problem is that, even in the most conscientious assembling of text from the website, there’s going to be a great deal of repetition. The play runs for roughly 75 minutes without intermission. And though there are rhythms in and within the texts chosen for the script, this is still an audience listening to people talk about having sex for  a little over an hour. It gets boring in places. And listening to clichéd, undoubtedly real accounts of people having sex for the first time can get quite dull.

A show that runs for only a little over an hour that gets dull in places is still largely entertaining, however. Under the direction of Bo Johnson, the cast manages to trick some of the script’s more stifling moments into being entertaining. Everyone in the cast has at least one really memorable extended monologue. Shantelle Szyper has one of the more touching dramatic moments of the production as she relates one story of a girl losing her virginity to a terminally ill boy. Drama is mixed with humor in a nuanced, delicately executed piece about a woman having sex with a wheelchair-bound tutor. The unique comedy of young love is explored in a tale told by Tim Higgins about a boy and a girl losing their virginity in the basement of a house. Emmit Morgans plays on an interesting range of characters from at least one socially awkward guy and one absolute predator. He’s leaning up against a column with a cowboy hat on speaking of one man’s story of taking advantage of a teenaged girl he’d gotten drunk. It was chillingly uncomfortable . . .

In and amidst the parade of stories, factoids about the audience are occasionally brought onscreen. Prior to the show, the audience fills out anonymous cards with some basic info—how old were you when you lost your virginity? Was it a planned encounter? Did you feel pressured into sex? What was your partner’s first name? and so on . . . text from the cards are incorporated into the performance . . . factoids from the cards are occasionally projected onto the board.

As carefully crafted as the script is, it’s not terribly insightful. Story after story after story—fragment after fragment after fragment are presented without any outside perspective, which emulates the style of the website quite well, but it ends up feeling kind of vacant as a stage production. You exit the theatre having had a pretty good time for 75 minutes, but the experience is definitely lacking something. In that respect, it will likely feel very much like losing virginity for a number of people in the audience.

The second run of Bite Theatre’s production of My First Time runs through August 7th at the 10th Street Theatre.

 

MY FIRST TIME, Preview from Bite Theatre on Vimeo.

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