The First Time unpacks the lives and experiences of five young women in their late teens to early twenties. Written by Courtney Rose Brown, the play delves into several first time experiences: from making friends, your first job, and coming out, to darker narratives like mental health struggles, sexual assault, and alcohol abuse. I commend Brown for her exceptional work here; she articulates her ideas with finesse and grit, producing five individual characters with very real, sometimes startling, narratives. I see myself in some of these stories and I see the people I know or knew. I also found the dialogue fervent yet justified. Expletives are sometimes rather jarring, but I can say that Brown’s script earns every single “fuck”, “cunt”, and “shit” it throws out at us.
The cast provide engrossing performances across the board: Janaye Henry as Te-Rina, Trae Te Wiki as Mereana, Iris Henderson as Alana, Ingrid Saker as Jess, and Courtney Rose Brown as Elle. Using the adept writing to their advantage, each performer finds the individual subtleties of their character, and these little nuances and detailings make the performances pop and sizzle. Te Wiki is a standout performer. In her portrayal of Mereana, she balances the calm and the storm, the anxiety and excitement, with such a care that it’s visual poetry. Brown’s Elle tugs at the heart as she travels down a rollercoaster of misfortune and troubles. Elle is a character I knew from my high school, and that makes the experience all the more impactful, all the more terrifying. At first, Alana’s quite the laughable character, with her elongated sentences that she sprinkles with “tbhs” and other acronyms. However, amplified by Henderson’s performance, she is one of the characters I align with the most as she struggles with the comfortability her tumultuous relationship provides. Saker’s character, Jess, seems like an outlier at first, which makes perfect sense as the audience slowly but surely learns about her inners demons. Saker’s control, passion, and reservation shines to gives us a well-rounded, entertaining performance. I found Te-Rina a difficult character to like, but there’s something about the soft and insecure undertones in Henry’s performance that makes me sympathise with her.
The show has a consistent rhythm between the stories and tales, punctuated by spotlights that garner the audience’s attention to a specific portions of the stage. When the spotlight falls on a character’s chair, it’s their turn to speak, and while it might sound simple or clichéd, it’s an incredibly effective invitation to find their voice. There is sometimes a delay between the spotlight falling and the character speaking, and these delays sometimes feel like missed cues rather than the dramatic pauses I assume some are. However, there are moments where each character’s inability to find the words says vastly more than the dialogue.
The stage composition of The First Time involves five different chairs each under it’s own spotlight, one for each character. Much of the show’s action happens with seated characters, or characters positioned in or around said chairs. This more static staging is seldom engaging, but the atmosphere keeps it interesting for audiences despite the reliance on stationary action. From the outset, the show is introduced to its audience as a conversation, and because we’re a part of several narratives and conversations, there’s always another turn or event to re-engage our attention. Although there are moments the show breaks from this composition, such as the compact duologue scenes or characters absent from where they’re meant to be. They are small in number, but these moments make these particular anecdotes ripe and ready for us to indulge in.
The First Time is the kind of show I wished to see as a teenager. It’s the kind of show that could very well help broaden knowledge, raise awareness, and erase stigma still present within our communities. It’s the kind of show you can see yourself, your old friends, and your old classmates in, which is both enlightening and frightening. The cast, the writing, the production, the purpose: everything about The First Time is wholeheartedly, unapologetically generous. The play shares the truths about what happens in the lives of our young people that society would rather avoid, or pretend didn’t happen. The First Time is raw, honest, and most importantly, pushes real young women and real life struggles under the limelight.
You can catch The First Time during its two-week season at Circa Theatre, June 21 to July 1. For more information on the show, or to book tickets, please visit the Circa Theatre website.