—>Alaina encounters a new performance hybrid in this visual fringe production, a community oral history panel discussion about sex, love and romance, created by Mammalian Diving Reflex. –the artblog editors———————->
I’m really not sure how much I can say about “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had.” When I caught the second and last Philadelphia performance of this curious theater-discussion hybrid at Plays and Players last weekend, I swore an oath to keep my mouth shut.
Producer Eva Verity got up in front of the audience and made us stand and raise our right hands.
“I pledge not to gossip,” we repeated obediently before the show. “What is said at ‘All the Sex’ stays at ‘All the Sex’.” Just to make sure we got the message, Verity added a final flourish to the en masse promise: “Gossip is as sexy as anal warts.”
“All the Sex I’ve Ever Had” is a social-theatrical project of the Toronto-based Mammalian Diving Reflex. With a concept based on interviews with about seventy people over the course of four years, versions of the performance have now appeared in five countries, and landed in Philadelphia last weekend as part of the Fringe Festival.
“Our hypothesis was that older people are no less sexually interested and active than the population of young people, who are generally depicted as being horny for action,” director Darren O’Donnell noted in the playbill. “Turns out we were both wrong and right.”
Last weekend’s show at Plays and Players had nine participants: six panelists (four men and two women, some elderly and some middle-aged, some from Philadelphia, some not), a young onstage host who called out the decades-long timeline, a man roving the house with a microphone, and the audience.
The format was deceptively simple. In brief, alternating anecdotes over about ninety minutes, the unflinching panelists told a lifetime of romances, marriages, illicit paramours and sexual encounters. And they occasionally turned the microphone on the audience, asking for a show of hands in response to a series of scandalous questions.
Who here has been in a sexual relationship with someone you didn’t love? Have you ever been in an open relationship? How did that go for you? Have you ever had sex in public? Are lawyers good in bed?
The questions drew a wide show of hands and several audience members who spoke frankly about their experiences. One claimed to have had sex in the balcony of a theater—not this theater—during the show.
“Was it a drama or a musical?” one of the panelists wanted to know.
As for the panelists, the oldest woman’s story began with her birth in 1933. Piece by piece, the seniors built a gripping, raw, heartbreaking and funny verbal tapestry of their lives, from teenaged encounters in tents and church basements with a scoutmaster’s amorous son to the dilemma of sexually mismatched spouses in middle age. Panelists relived marriages and betrayals, disappointing first-times, pre-teen masturbatory revelations and the rise of the AIDS crisis. They dealt with anti-gay discrimination, childbirth, and the first loves that never really fade.
Audible gasps rose from the audience at the relation of tragedies like cancer and suicide. With a frank insouciance the audience loved, panelists missed cues, flubbed lines, started over, and freely added their own banter to the script.
According to O’Donnell in the playbill, Mammalian Diving Reflex conducts a “social acupuncture” that “creates new social dynamics” with “small, temporary, atypical performances” that draw on the human resources of the community. “We are curious nerds sending little shocks into the system to observe what happens,” O’Donnell adds.
Not everyone is ready for the shocks, even at Plays and Players. Several theater-goers left during the performance, including one man who huffed, “This is ridiculous!” as he squirmed past the other patrons in his row. “What a horrible play,” he whispered as he stalked up the aisle.
But he was in the minority. For the most part, “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had” met an audience who reveled in its laughs, absorbed its sadness and responded with their own stories.
“All the Sex I’ve Ever Had,” directed by Darren O’Donnell, was developed by Toronto’s Mammalian Diving Reflex, in collaboration with Oldenburg State Theatre and Pazz Festival. It was presented at the Plays and Players Theater as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival on September 13th and 14th, in tandem with Navin Rawanchaikul’s visual/theatrical Fringe Festival homage to the Plays and Players community, “This Is Not a Theater.”