Slow + steady

Talking about sex – with a turtle?
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  February 28, 2007
TAKE IT EASY: But have the conversation.

Before grown-ups start talking to kids about certain things, a parent observes, kids start talking to grown-ups. About things like those weird new words she learned at school — “penis” and “magina” — or about why the boy turtle is on top of the girl turtle in the family tank.

But when the time comes for discussions about the teenage version of these things, it’s often a source of anxiety, embarrassment, and avoidance for members of both generations. And so, in an attempt to loosen everybody up, numerous local organizations and individuals have, er, come together. Their new community initiative and play are designed to help get everybody (in the words of Clyde, the title character) “talking turtle.” When Turtles Make Love: Real Talk Between Parents and Teens, written by Cathy Plourde and Chiara Liberatore of Add Verb Productions, premieres on March 1 at the Portland Museum of Art, with repeat performances on March 3 and 4 at USM’s Abromson Center.

Turtles, directed by Plourde with choreography and dance direction by Louis Gervais, is the theatrical component of Portland’s contribution to a national campaign called Real Life. Real Talk. This groundbreaking sexual and social health project was initiated by Planned Parenthood of America, partnered by over twenty local organizations, and funded in part by the Ford Foundation. RLRT attempts to foster a more open and supportive environment for talking about sex.

Public discussions about sexual health issues often result in knee-jerk political polarizations, but, as RLRT’s local program coordinator Lauren Grousd says, “the arts are a great way to get people thinking more openly about their feelings and experiences.” With this in mind, RLRT commissioned a play as one way to get people talking. Authors Plourde and Liberatore conducted dialogues and interviews with people from across the spectrums of age, religion, and sexual orientation, and from them culled stories, fears, questions, and some very funny anecdotes of parents, teenagers, and sex. Ideas from these encounters then “seeded,” as the authors put it, the loosely woven plot lines of Turtles.

Like most parents, Jess and Mike (Tess Van Horn and Seth Rigoletti), Gayle (Karen Ball), and Sonia (Amanda Huotari) would rather not think about their children having sex, but in the cases of two of their three teenage kids, the sex is being had. Although Adam (Alex Endy) isn’t having sex with anyone other than “Jill” (hold up your right hand, palm out, and spell the fingers), Chris (Kerry Elson) is sexually involved with a boy (whom her mom Jess, problematically, can’t stand), and Gina (Alessandra Falconer) has just started having sex with her own boyfriend.

This all means that the kids and the parents should be doing a little communication. Instead, fear and discomfort keep the conversation intra- rather than inter-generational, create all kinds of interpersonal conflicts, and often leave the teenagers confused and sullen. But with the gentle prodding and aphorisms of Clyde, the charming and omniscient old turtle, everyone takes baby steps toward rapprochement in a script that is bold, frequently hilarious, and admirably nuanced.

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