Make no mistake: Even though its subject is sex, “My First Time” is actually about money. A recent story in the New York Times detailed how producer-creator-director Ken Davenport, the man behind slick machines like “Altar Boyz” and “The Awesome 80s Prom,” capitalized this commercial Off Broadway production for a scant $175,000, and his thriftiness is apparent onstage. To help tell the stories of how various people lost their virginity, he enlists only four actors and essentially limits the design to barstools, street clothes and a slide projector.
That could be fine, of course, if the script weren’t treated like another line on the budget. As it bounces between anecdotes, it sounds like the result of a focus group meeting, designed to pander to as many ticket-buying demographics as possible.
As actors step forward to deliver a series of unrelated monologues — all taken directly from MyFirstTime.com, a website that has been soliciting tales of lost innocence since 1996 — they might as well be ticking boxes on a checklist. Wild stories for the bachelorette parties? Covered. Token homosexuals for the gay crowd? Got ’em. There’s even the obligatory nod to audience participation, since answers from pre-show questionnaires get worked into the material. (One segment has the cast reading responses to the question, “If your first sexual partner were here right now, what would you say to him/her?”)
To be fair, the obvious formula does provide a few rewards. Some of the stories have enough detail to make them truly funny, like when a woman (Kathy Searle) just can’t forgive her first lover for wearing socks during the big act.
Others connect by sharing painful memories. In its most thoughtful moment, the show intercuts the monologues of a swaggering bartender (Bill Dawes), who brags about forcing himself on a girl, with that of a mournful man (Josh Heine) who regrets not helping a friend after she was raped. For a second, forceful questions are raised about sexual ethics.
But the sentiment of individual moments can’t counter the sweeping cynicism of “My First Time’s” conclusion. All we see is a slide projection of a quote from the website. In part, it says, “Maybe everyone will realize this one brief experience doesn’t have to be such a life changing moment… Maybe now we can all concentrate on what’s really important. The next time.”
That’s supposed to be a feel-good line, but it shows Davenport trying to have his cake and eat it, too. He spends 79 minutes pleading for our laughter, sympathy and tears, and then uses his last 60 seconds to insist that losing your virginity isn’t such a big deal.
Thus, “My First Time” can sell itself both as an “issues” play and as a mindless romp. It can mention dozens of taboo subjects, but by refusing to consider those subjects seriously, it can avoid being labeled offensive. In trying to be everything to everyone, it ends up as nothing much at all.