Having an entertaining ‘Talk’ – Keenan-Bolger and Sullivan direct ‘The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged’

The cast rehearses

The cast rehearses

I grew up with two brothers and no sisters. When your mom is the only woman in the house you miss out on certain things. Getting to intimidate your sister’s boyfriend, for example. Of course, there are many others: makeup, training bras, the weird science of female clothing, that time of the month. Learning about girls has been a lifelong education for me. So, in some sense, I was the perfect audience for The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged. The show is an honest and unabashed look at female sexuality that runs the gamut from young to old, straight to gay to transsexual, white to colored, and includes women of all shapes and sizes.

Now, before you roll your eyes thinking this is just another provocative soapbox piece, let the show do it for you. The opening skit in the evening’s series of sketches, titled “Nightmare”, sends up all the fears an audience faces attending “one of those” shows: awkward audience interaction, strange vaginal dance monologues and militant feminists chanting “chop it off!” just to name a few. After laughing through all the spoof-able nightmare moments, I felt relaxed and assured that the show would be fun, comfortable and human. The resulting show was all these and more thanks to the warmth of the cast and the honesty of the material.

The first scene showed a gynecologist’s waiting room. In it we meet an expectant mother, a 25 year old virgin, a woman with lumps in her breast, a female to male transgender who asks for his pap smear and a young woman who hopes to become pregnant. The scene touched on race relations, differing sexualities, patient to doctor relationships and medical procedures in quick sequence as actors switched ably from doctor to patient. Set and props were mostly mimed or indicated and actors comfortably jumped from one role to another within the same scene, adding to the sense of fun. Among other things, I learned how a mammogram works. It was interesting.

The show continued with “Little Boxes,” about the pitfalls of judging a woman’s sexuality based on her looks and “Everybody Wants Sex,” a rousing musical number about the absurd predominance of sex in our culture (led by “Asexual Anthea”). The song uses sarcasm to make the point that not everybody wants sex and that sex is not the same thing as love. For someone a little tired of our hyper-sexualized world, it was refreshing to know that other people feel the same. Other topics included senior sexuality, couple communication, the detrimental sexual expectations of society, a disabled woman’s approach to sexuality and a movement piece about sexual violence against women.

I personally thought that “Cave of Coats,” a fable about three girls who make their own identities in spite of expectations, was especially charming. The “Miss Sex 2013” pageant-style competition was farcical and funny, and spoiler, the winner is foreplay. Take note, everyone (unless you are Anthea). “The Road to Reproductive Rights” was entertaining but stood out as overtly political. It is too bad that politics could not be treated as equitably as sexuality. They are both, after all, unique to every person.

Despite addressing a dizzying number of topics the performance never dragged. The fun and comfortable approach combined with quick pacing and deft stagecraft moved the show right along. This was due to the talented cast and the assured direction of collaborators Maggie Keenan-Bolger and Rachel Sullivan. The directors led the whole cast in a talk back following the show where audience members discussed their favorite moments, what they would have liked to see, and asked questions of the performers. When we got up to leave I felt like the conversation was just getting started.

Rachel Sullivan and Maggie Keenan-Bolger

Rachel Sullivan and Maggie Keenan-Bolger

Afterwards, Maggie and Rachel gave me time for a quick chat. They were engaging, friendly and excited about their work. While I already knew that the show was a devised work, meaning that the cast created the show from conversations and improvisations, I learned that the process had been ongoing since summer 2011. In the meantime they have surveyed over 2,000 people and rehearsed with a cast of 25 to create the piece I saw that night. They were pleased that a show they devised about female sexuality was accessible and entertaining to someone like myself, as they intended it to be. Now that the show has opened in New York City, the directors hope to take it to schools and other communities that may not be as open to the conversation as New Yorkers might be.

As I left the theater and walked back to the subway I couldn’t help but think that every person I passed had their own story to tell; something that I honestly don’t consider as I walk past my fellow New Yorkers every day. It made me glad to think that one show could stand up for individuality in the midst of a discussion that, when conducted in the back of Cosmopolitan or not at all, reduces everyone to the same boring person. As the show would say, that’s just plain vanilla. And ladies and gentlemen, we live in a kinky world.

For more information on The Birds and the Bees: Unabridged, check out their website, http://www.thebirdsandthebeesunabridged.com.

birds and bees

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