Few plays ask their audience beforehand whether they're a virgin. "My First Time," now playing at the Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, does ask, in the form of anonymous audience survey cards handed out prior to the production.
Answers from the cards are incorporated into the inventive show, which also uses stories culled from www.MyFirst Time.com , which invites people to post reminiscences of their first sexual encounters and now boasts more than 40,000 memories. Peter Foldy and Craig Paddock created the site to do research for a teen-movie script they were working on, and it quickly became a phenomenon.
The play is simply set up: Four actors share stories about first sexual experiences, without costume changes, major props or sets. There are just four stools and a large screen above the stage that displays story titles, information about sex, quotes from celebrities about their first times and audience statistics such as the number of virgins in attendance. (The night I attended, it was a fairly surprising 15 out of 50.)
The tales range from humiliating, comical and bizarre to sad and regretful. There are stories from victims of rape and incest, from frustrated virgins in their 40s, from angry, betrayed women, from straight and gay. Disappointment, both comic and poignant, figures prominently. Producer Ken Davenport has clearly made a conscious effort to represent a fair amount of diversity.
"My First Time" turns the real-life stories submitted by visitors into an exhilarating evening of shared camaraderie. Some accounts are achingly familiar in their awkwardness, some inspiring and heartfelt, some chilling and downright illegal.
One particularly moving and powerful part of the show juxtaposes a sleazy seduction told from the seducer's point of view with that of a friend of a rape victim who wishes he could've done more.
The talented cast portrays the memories of many different people and has to change gears rapidly. Ryan Stamey is quietly powerful as the sleazy seducer but at other times has a fizzy comic energy. Shon Wilson is by turns charming, haunted and hilarious in her various roles. She's especially show-stopping when she recounts a teenager's innovative (and ineffective) method of birth control.
And Biniam Tekola and Carrie Cranford have alternately affecting and gleeful performances showcasing various characters. Cranford brings a particularly wrenching pathos to her recounting of a sister's ultimate gift to her dying brother.
"My First Time" is deftly directly by Chip Decker and moves swiftly through its 90-minute running time.
The last question on the survey elicits the most fascinating replies, read onstage by the cast: "If your first sexual partner were here right now, what would you say to him/her?" Think about your answer and go see "My First Time."