If you're no longer a child and you're not quite an adult, what are you? It's almost as if those two significant parts of your life are pulling at you, not letting go until childhood slowly fades, as it inevitably must. That conflict is detailed in Suzanne Bachner's new play Sex Ed, now playing at the Midtown International Theatre Festival.
Sex Ed is essentially the story of three students experiencing their sexual awakening, juxtaposed against the adults at the school where most of it happens. The show's six characters are performed by three likable actors: Danny Wiseman, Alex McCord, and John Houfe. Wiseman and Houfe play best friends who compete for the romantic affections of McCord's character in the student scenes, and then play the principal, the guidance counselor, and the school nurse in the adult scenes. The actors handle each of the roles well, effortlessly moving back and forth between ages with only a few moments to make the change.
Unfortunately, the story itself is handled less successfully. While it understandable that Bachner would not want the students and teachers to share the stage, this idea causes some problems in the later scenes when the adults are holding conversations with the students in chairs far downstage. It is far less effective than using the audience to represent the children in the Sex Ed class, the convention which had been used until that point. As Bachner also directed the play, it is perhaps understandable that those scenes are not particularly effective - there is too much reverence for the script and not enough for what would work onstage.
Though the play starts out light and comic, it takes on a particularly jarring serious and ugly tone near the end. While it is quite possible this change in mood is intended to represent the descent into adulthood, the end of the play, with its disjointed, non-realistic staging (in stark contrast with the rest of the play) and its rather out-of-character plot twists, doesn't truly feel like an end to the story. It barely feels like the same play.
Regardless, Sex Ed has its moments, and when it works, it works quite well. It feels as though it lacks the focus necessary to make it a true comment on adolescence and the difficult period between childhood and adulthood. As children are fought over those opposing forces entering their teen years, so is Sex Ed fought over by the equally powerful demons of tragedy and comedy, a battle in which, in this production, there are no clear-cut winners.
The John Montgomery Theatre Company, Inc.