First Time, Long Time
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 27, 2010
Jeremy Stuart's First Time, Long Time is a modern-day campfire ghost story. But because nowadays we don't huddle together around fires in the dark, but rather instead sit alone with our cellphones and our laptops, the setting for this play is appropriately a talk radio show. Its host, Harland West, also sits alone, in his studio, articulately giving voice to his apocalyptic philosophy and taking calls from some very desperate souls. He listens, he counsels, and he teaches: his knowledge of catastrophe is broad and deep, but does he actually reach anyone: can he or anybody ever really help anybody else?
But I am perhaps delving deeper than I ought; this is a ghost story, not a spiritual meditation, and it is designed to scare us so that we might master the uncertainty in the elements around us. I don't want to give too much away, because Stuart has lots of alarming surprises in store for his audience. But I will say this: the description provided in the show's press release—"callers chime in from the brinks of disaster, natural and otherwise"—is exactly accurate; if you're upset by stories of earthquakes, explosions, floods, and so on, this is not the show for you.
Stuart's writing is rich and vivid, and thus the piece is highly effective at what it sets out to accomplish. His portrayal of West is compelling, a portrait of cool detachment. Expert voice work by Amanda Byron and Robert Sherrane, as all of the offstage callers, fills out the play masterfully.
The world of First Time, Long Time is a strange alternative/heightened reality, which provides an odd security blanket as we watch—we know that what's being described isn't really taking place. But the words get under our skin nonetheless; perhaps more than anything else, this play reminds us of the power of storytelling to provoke, engage, and jolt.
There is one other takeaway here, a significant one: Stuart's message is unabashedly green, constantly reminding us of the myriad ways that humanity has done and continues to do damage to the precious world we've been given. You don't have to go to StageLeft Studio to see First Time, Long Time to scare yourself to death; you can read any website on the internet any day of the week for that. But maybe this show can push our consciousnesses into a productive direction, because there's still time to fix the mess we've made.