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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at New World Stages

By David Lefkowitz

Three is more than a crowd when it comes to theater, three can be a genre. Do a certain kind of show once - for example, the interview-based research and theme-based vignettes assembled into The Vagina Monologues - and it's an anomaly destined to be a prototype. The second show using the format - say, the pastiche performance piece about loss, Gone Missing - heralds a nascent trend. Add the third production - in this case, My First Time - and a genre has been solidified.

Call it Topic Theater. Do a load of first-person research and then arrange the results into two kinds of segments. One is short, Anna Deavere Smith-style monologues the other, choppy lists of responses, from the coochie-nicknames list in Vagina Monologues to the list of first names of first loves rattled off by the cast of My First Time.

Actually, one could be snide and say the three aforementioned shows are related, since they're all about losing something (and two of them to the same cavity). My First Time sprang from emailed postings to a website which asked readers to elaborate on the who, what, when and where they lost their virginity.

Most of the responses (or at least the ones culled for theatrical purposes) are bemused and positive, from the fellow deflowered after a long shift at a radio station to the straight woman having an ideal first time - with her girlfriend. Locations range from a Howard Johnson's Suite to a Washington DC subway to a basement laundry pile to the inevitable airplane bathroom. And the vast majority of post-coital summations go along the lines of, well, it was mediocre, and he was awkward and genetically short-changed, but hey, it's just the first time, not the last.

Of course, we get a couple of darker-tinged stories, including a date rape, a Coca Cola douche (sans the Fugsian snickers) and the tale of a young woman who gives her dying, virgin brother a gift and then dares us to question its morality. Mostly, though, My First Time stays in rosy, perfect-third-date mode (as evidenced by the couple seated near me, who graduated from nuzzling during the show's first half to canoodling through its second).

Disappointed though I was that the luscious blonde on the show's ubiquitous posters doesn't appear in the show, that's no mark against the personable cast producer/creator Ken Davenport has gathered at New World Stages. Youthful Josh Heine generally gets the naïve, I-can't-believe-this-happened-to-me types, while tall, pale and muscular Bill Dawes scores, literally and figuratively, playing bad boys. Cydnee Welburn believably conveys the hurt and anger of a girl whose first time was the worst time Kathy Searle often plays against her cuteness by affecting a hard tone and working-class attitude.

Though My First Time passes briskly and holds our interest, I do share New York Times critic Ginia Bellafante's doubt that "listening to these stories [is] a whole lot more enlightening or fun than merely sitting in front of a computer and reading them." Indeed, this may be the Achilles heel of Topic Theater. We bounce from character to character and thought to thought, enjoying a laugh or two, feeling properly sober during the serious bits, but exiting the theater realizing what we've seen is exactly what we expected - nothing more and maybe a bit less. That may be fine for first times, but after ten thousand times, I crave something more exciting when the lights go down.



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