Mammalian Diving Reflex/Darren O’Donnell present an evening of sex stories from six Chicagoans over 65. Organized as a chronological table read with occasional dance party and audience participation interludes, I don’t think that I could call it a piece of theater, but, from time to time, the veracity of a personal anecdote will certainly stay with you.
Seated at a long table, with microphones, scripts, and glasses of water, the cast looks more like participants in a news conference than actors in a play. They take turns reading a sentence or two about sexual encounters, starting in the 1940s and ending 20 years in the future. These range from innocent fantasy to romantic love to coldblooded rape. At intervals they pause and poll the audience on topics like anal sex or the death of a lover, then staff run up into the seats and interview the often sheepish person they choose from those who raised hands. I suppose this is meant to make us feel like we’re just like the people on stage, but the effect is disruptive to a show that has little narrative structure or momentum to begin with. I also think it’s a little coercive to stick a mike in someone’s face who had no intention of being the focus of attention and wasn’t vetted in any way as to their readiness or desire to participate.
All the Sex I’ve Ever Had
Through 3/31: Thu-Fri 3/24-3/25, 8 PM, Sat 3/26 2 PM, Tue-Thu 3/29-3/31, 8 PM; Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, mcachicago.org, $10-$30. In Spanish with English supertitles. Shows on 3/25 and 3/30 presented with ASL interpretation. Livestream available for 3/30 performance (pay what you can $5-$30).
Perhaps because it was opening night there were myriad technical glitches. The sound mix seemed off throughout—bombastic one moment, sounding like bleed from an adjoining room the next. There was an LED screen with a bilingual English/Spanish crawl of the text being read that the performers strayed from or flubbed throughout. Overall, the visual and aural aspects of the presentation felt like a slapdash afterthought. And yet, I can’t entirely dismiss this obviously big-hearted mess.
There’s just no denying the potency of a mature person recalling episodes from their long lives. I laughed out loud when one reader relates mishearing a word during her mom’s birds-and-bees talk as “vajanitor,” then follows up by asking mom if she means the old guy who cleans up around their apartment building. There are also horrific acts of cruelty described. Often, these are made even more resonant by the casualness of their revelation and the abrupt moving on without supplying many details. These are all patchwork pieces in long resilient lives. No matter how awful—or wonderful—each reader proves themself a survivor simply by their place on this stage.
The show is worthwhile as a workshop or rough draft but needs a lot of editing and polish. I’m not sure that a traditional theater setup is the ideal venue to tell these intimate stories. I would have enjoyed them a lot better over drinks in a quiet bar.