A New Play Talks, Er, Turtle About Teen Sexuality | Theater | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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A New Play Talks, Er, Turtle About Teen Sexuality 

State of the Arts

When Turtles Make Love
  • When Turtles Make Love

As a family pet, the turtle lacks drama. It doesn't romp enthusiastically outside, or hock up attention-getting fur balls inside. But the mild-mannered reptile plays a surprising starring role at the center of a new play. In When Turtles Make Love, a hard-shelled softie named Clyde moderates interactions between parents and teens on a particularly tricky topic: sex.

The show opens next Wednesday for a two-night run at the Waterfront Theatre in Burlington. Playing a diverse mix of parents and teens, an ensemble cast of eight interacts with the older and wiser, been-there-done-that turtle. Director and co-author Cathy Plourde of Portland, Maine, says the philosophical pet helps people "step out of their own shell . . . and be smarter for it." Clyde "pokes, he states the obvious, he calls people out, he's our conscience and he's our guide," she elaborates. He challenges the characters "to look past the fears . . . and wade through their own assumptions."

Using a cute critter, however, doesn't mean a soft-focus treatment of tough topics, Plourde warns. "The play doesn't serve at all to oversimplify or dumb down what is really a complex and very sensitive issue," she says. It's not a series of "warm, fuzzy" scenes, where all the characters "trust each other with everything. There's a lot of tension, which is reflected, I think, in our real situations," she continues. "You can agree with your best friend on everything politically . . . And then when it comes down to values around sexuality, maybe they have daughters and you have sons, and you're seeing things very differently."

The play is about finding ways to communicate, despite generational barriers and the inherent awkwardness of the topic. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England commissioned the script. According to Catriona McHardy, PPNNE's vice president of education, research shows that both parents and teens want to talk. Grown-ups may be surprised to learn, in fact, that teens are looking for adult guidance, especially about relationships, McHardy says. The play provides "a really good way for adults and teenagers to look at a sensitive subject in a nonjudgmental atmosphere," she says. The use of humor disarms, and the medium allows for insight "without it feeling like a teaching lesson."

PPNNE premiered When Turtles Make Love in Portland last March; its production in Burlington next week is part of a Chittenden County parent initiative. Director Plourde is passionate about the potential impact. "Theater has this power to change," she declares. "When you're breathing with a character who is struggling through a moment, through an issue, you were there . . . Your breathing is changed as well, and you've experienced this moment in a way that will resonate with you longer than a media image that you catch hundreds of every day."

When Turtles Make Love, directed by Cathy Plourde, produced by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Waterfront Theatre, Burlington, Wednesday and Thursday, November 14-15, at 7 p.m. $20 ($15 for ages 17 and under). Info, http://www.ppnne.org.

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Elisabeth Crean

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