Un-sexy Sex 

Richmond Triangle Players explore sex addiction

"The First Step" chronicles the life of a sex addict, a gay man whimsically named Joe Blow, whose life unravels as he battles his addiction. In scenes alternately hilarious, brutal and unnerving, Joe frankly discusses his sexual history, from his first experience as a boy (an anonymous tryst in a public bathroom) to the death of his lover, which finally motivates him to take "the first step" toward recovery.

The play marks a return for the Richmond Triangle Players (RTP) to the sort of "issue play" that the company specialized in during its early years. Started in 1992 with a mission to offer "alternative, original and seldom-seen works," RTP originally focused on the AIDS crisis and other challenges facing the gay and lesbian community. While still producing plays that touch on topics like diversity and breast cancer, RTP has focused on fun in recent years, with quirky and comic offerings like "The Secretaries" and last year's hit "Ruthless!"

Knapp, also a board member, has been with the RTP since the beginning and says the company hasn't been avoiding heavier topics. "Not as many people are writing issue plays these days," he explains. Which is part of the reason Knapp jumped at the chance to produce the world premiere of "The First Step." "Sex addiction is not a new thing, but this is the first time that it's being talked about openly," Knapp notes.

Indeed, when it's been addressed at all in popular media, sex addiction has generally been played for laughs, something "The First Step" does extensively. The play includes a rap song about sex-related Internet screen names and a version of the "Dating Game" that explores the differences between gay and straight addicts. "There are many funny ideas but they don't resolve funny," Knapp says. "The sex addict stuff is always there."

While RTP has tackled controversial material in the past, this show presented new challenges. "It wasn't an easy sell casting-wise. I offered roles to a few actors who read the script and said, 'No, I don't think so,'" Knapp says. The lead actor, Charlottesville resident Stephen Getman, was the third actor offered the role and was intrigued in part because of his current course of study. "Stephen's a Ph.D. student in cultural anthropology and was interested in exploring the issue from a cultural standpoint, not just a theatrical one," Knapp says.

While it's a controversial show, it's likely to be a popular one as well: A workshop production of "The First Step" was sold-out during its run at the New York Fringe Festival last month. And there is a serious aspect of sex addiction that Knapp hopes translates to the hopefully sizable audience: "There are many sex addicts, both gay and straight, that are HIV-positive and they aren't stopping. It's frightening, but it's real." S



Richmond Triangle Players' "The First Step" is running at Fielden's Theatre, 2033 W. Broad St., through Oct. 16. Tickets cost $14-16, call 346-8113.

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