BWW Previews: SEX AGAIN Blazes Risque Path From Page to Stage
Everybody say it together now.
Now say this.
Those words can induce squeamishness in the wrong ears. But the Louisville arts community has proven to be more than welcoming to new works - especially of an adult nature.
Heidi Saunders and Rebecca Henderson, co-Artistic Producers of Frog Pump Productions, are boldly endeavoring into the latter subject with the world premiere of "Sex Again," which opened Friday at Vault1031 in Old Louisville. "Sex Again," the second producing effort in their collaborative relationship to premiere locally, shows that they're getting their legs under them as a source for new theatre.
"Sex Again" tackles the universal topic from a different side: the mature side. In the play, which Saunders calls a "comedy about a serious subject," a long-married couple has suffered a prolonged dry spell. The wife lays down an ultimatum: it's time for sex again. When her beloved romance novels take on a life of their own, the stakes grow.
Saunders and Henderson's three-way partnership with director Keith McGill began with the pairing of Henderson's "Frog's Milk" and Saunders' "Pump Works," a finalist in the 2010 Kentucky Theatre Association Playwrighting Contest.
Each had a script, but, as Henderson puts it, "A play isn't a play until it's up on its legs." The plays were produced as a single piece in January 2012 at the Rudyard Kipling in Old Louisville. The pair saw in their scripts the possibility of interweaving the stories and elements to create a singular evening of theatre.
"We kept saying we would do it 'Our Town'-style," Henderson says.
They began interviewing directors and contacted McGill, a veteran actor, teacher, writer and standup comedian whom Henderson had known for nearly 20 years.
"We interviewed about six directors. It was Keith that said, 'This isn't two plays. It's one and can be done like 'Our Town,'" Henderson says. "We excused ourselves to the bathroom and began jumping up and down. 'We found him!'"
After "Frog's Milk/Pump Works," the idea for "Sex Again" took root. Saunders had written five political thriller novels before attempting a play. She bought a romance novel by bestselling genre novelist Stephanie Laurens and read it with her husband in bed. The content and experience inspired her.
Saunders, a summer resident of New York City, took the idea to New York University, where she studied with highly successful director and writing instructor James Farrell. In a class of just her and six undergrads, Saunders found her first audience loved the idea.
"I started the play with mature characters, writing about their sex lives, not sure if the students would like it," she says. "They loved it. They gave insight about their own parents' sex lives. They really embraced the script."
The nascent script had a successful staged reading at NYU, and Saunders came back to Louisville to develop it. She returned to New York the following summer. The New York Public Library reached out to her to hold a staged reading - and quickly canceled it.
"The library asked for a flyer, which had a romance novel-type cover," says Saunders, a Wertheim Scholar in Residence at the library. "Then, this flustered lady called and said the library couldn't put it on, only based on the flyer."
"'Paranoia is running rampant!' is what we imagined," Henderson says.
The ban quickly went viral, and Saunders' work was quickly championed by the likes of the National Association Against Censorship and Times Square Playwrights, who arranged a new reading. "We received lots of support," says Saunders, still a Wertheim Scholar at the library.
Saunders brought the script back to Louisville to try it out at the New Play Slam, a night of play readings she and local director/producer Amy Attaway created at Vault1031.
"I said, 'This was banned in Mannhattan. Brace yourselves,'" Saunders says. "The audience said, 'We can handle it.'"
This week, Louisville audiences will be the first to see "Sex Again" in its fully realized form. Henderson will appear onstage, and Saunders has been refining the script throughout the rehearsal process.
"I edit continuosly," she says. "There's no way you can understand your play until it's up."
Saunders also credits McGill and the cast for bravely embracing the material. "This is the absolute best cast," she says. "They bring they're own depth of experience to it. The actors' comfort level is always a struggle, and Keith has been great guiding them along."
Going into opening night, Henderson feels intense admiration for Saunders' work. "Gabrielle Roth said 'You have to have discipline to be a free spirit.' I applaud Heidi for having the courage to pursue this."
By Heidi Saunders
Directed by Keith McGill
When: January 10-11, 16-18 at 7:30 p.m., January 12 at 2:00 p.m.
Where: Vault 1031, 1031 South Sixth St.
Tickets: $20 cash at the door
Reservations: 502.592.4218 and firstname.lastname@example.org