Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Plot Points in our Sexual Development
In Plot Points in our Sexual Development, which opened Saturday night at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, Akaina Ghosh and Ezra Reaves delve into their characters' most private, intimate, even embarrassing moments without a hint of hesitancy or artifice. The characters they playAkaina's Cecily, a young lesbian, and Ezra's Theo, a trans manare a couple who have reached a sort of tipping point, a moment where each must discover what it is they want from the other, and from themselves. To do this, they reach back into their earliest memories of beginning to understand what sex and gender meant, moving inexorably from toddlerhood to adulthood, sharing stories with each other of the moments in their development that have informed and shaped who they have become.
Individually they tell talesof kissing games with a "My Size Barbie" (a three-foot tall version of the iconic doll, something I never before knew existed) or of a toddler having a "boyfriend" who was actually their grandparents' lawn jockey, or the horrifyingly hysterical account of how Cecily's Catholic school taught that virginity was like a fresh stick of gum until you chew it and it's never the same again. As these stories come pouring out of them, the two seem to both connect with each other and discover core differences. Ezra confesses that their penis envy was "such a bad look," and that they became "a target for young straight women to experiment with their sexuality." Cecily relates how the priests reassured her and her classmates that "If you're gay, it's possible to live a life without hurting someone," and complains that her cousin "got our Italian hair, and I got our love of bread and fear of fascism." As their stories shift from pre-pubescence to the teen years, these tales of first crushes and unrequited love become more and more painful, even disturbing.
Making these revelations even more challenging for the two actors (who are both quite wonderful, fully-focused and engaged) is that the action has been staged by director Leigh Rondon-Davis in the round. (Square, to be more precise.) At the center of the space (set design and technical direction by Carlos Aceves) is a plush purple chaise longue and a coffee table. On all four walls are framed items (props and costumes by Emily Dwyer) that seem to represent different aspects of the stories being told: a Barbie doll, pill bottles, toys, etc. With the audience often mere inches from the performers, we would truly feel like voyeurs into their truth-telling, butcleverlyRondon-Davis has their actors occasionally break the fourth wall with asides to the audience. Given that it might be easier for the actors to reveal their characters' secrets and insecurities so unguardedly if they pretended we weren't actually in the room with them, this may at first seem an odd choice. Yet somehow it works perfectly, and I'm at a loss to explain just how.
Plot Points in our Sexual Development delves into the experiencessome commonplace, some mysteriousthat combine to influence how we see ourselves in terms of our sexuality and that of others. The experience of the show is a bit like wading into a dark lake: tentatively at first, up to our ankles, then deeper and deeper we go, until the water threatens to engulf us, only to discover that somewhere along the way we've learned to swim.
Plot Points in our Sexual Development runs through December 19, 2021, at New Conservatory Theatre Center's Walker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25-$65. For tickets and information, please visit NCTCSF.org or call 415-861-8972.