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Review: “My First Time”

Sunday night at My First Time was my first time reviewing the work of Indianapolis performing arts venue called Theatre on the Square. Having only seen a handful of shows at Theatre on the Square that were not part of the Indianapolis Fringe Theatre Festival, it was refreshing to finally become acquainted with this popular Mass Ave theatre company.

My First Time is a collection of stories from the website of the same name. Each story is a completely anonymous confession of various first time sexual experiences. “Various” is the key word here, as the variety of stories in this play is vast and undiscriminating. The script is designed to highlight the universality of a first time sexual experience. Anyone who has had sex (which is almost everyone) has had a first time. My First Time is an exploration of the various values and definitions people place on sex. The show can be at times light and airy and at times dark and disturbing. Starring J. Nicholas Shoemaker, Carrie Morgan, Zachary Joyce and Niki Hurrle Warner, My First Time runs now through January 30, 2010.

As I settled into my seat on Sunday evening, I noticed that literally everyone in the audience had a beer in hand. Like sex, it seems My First Time is an experience better enjoyed with a loosening of inhibitions. I headed to the box office to join in the experience with my own bottle of Stella Artois. The most stunning thing about this show is how much it seems to depend on the audience. The actors seemed a bit sluggish at first; after all, this was the last show of their opening weekend. On top of that they were playing to a small house of 16. But as the audience settled into the rhythm and content of the show (perhaps with the help of our beers), so too did the actors. It was almost as if they needed to feel us out, as a group, to see what moments they could and couldn’t go for.

Theatre on the Square, like the Phoenix Theatre, is famous for doing a lot with limited resources. Because of this, the script, which I assume calls for very little, is a perfect choice for this Indianapolis performing arts venue. The most noticeable scenic elements (besides four stools and a bright pink back wall) were projections sharing excerpts, facts, statistics and quotes about various first time experiences. In addition, each member of the audience was asked to fill out an anonymous survey about their first time. The results of these surveys were incorporated intelligently into the show, making the play seem to belong to us even more.

An audience driven show makes perfect sense for a play based on an audience driven website. Though you may or may not have written your story on the My First Time website, or even visited it, you will definitely hear a first time story that is similar to yours. From dark and grotesque to bizarre to simple and even sweet, My First Time is like the Post Secret of first time sex. The cast of Theatre on the Square’s production do a great job of playing to their audience. Yet the show seems inextricably linked to the mood of the audience. It has potential to grow bigger than itself with the right audience, and at the same time, the potential to fall flat on its face with the wrong audience. Luckily, it seems Theatre on the Square has cultivated the right audience over the course of several years to feel safe in producing this show.

The script moves easily from horrible stories of first time sex to hilarious ones. A move all too easily mirrored by the cast, who easily settle into hamming it up in one moment then move effortlessly to genuine emotion in the next. But each actor has at least one shining moment of honest brilliance: a credit to Ron Spencer’s directorial eye and ability to reel in his actors comedic tendencies. Overall, I wager that this show is a gamble that has the possibility of a big pay off given a fun audience. For more information about My First Time at Theatre on the Square, visit their official website.

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My First Time
Through January 30, 2010

Theatre on the Square
627 Massachusetts Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46204
317.685.TOTS