'The First Step' Offers Raw Look at Sex Addiction

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The cast of “The First Step” performs a rap using chat room screen names. Credit: George Wentzler

Yes, it is possible to be addicted to sex. And, in many cases, this disease can be just as personally and professionally destructive as alcohol, drugs or even food. One young man’s struggle is the subject of Michael Leeds’ play, “The First Step – Diary of a Sex Addict,” which opened last weekend at Island City Stage.

Sex has arguably always played an outsized role in gay life. Before Grindr and Scruff, gay men sought contact in cruisy parks and public bathrooms, sex clubs and bathhouses, AOL and internet chat rooms.

Joe (Mike Westrich) is a sex addict. He has slept with more men than he can count, seeking encounters with virtually any stranger on the street. He masturbates at work and gets lost for days at a time in sex clubs and seedy video stores. He is HIV positive, but that doesn’t matter. Sadly, he is seemingly incapable of a healthy, emotional relationship, as he has completely divorced “love” from “sex.”

Finally, after being arrested for lewd conduct in a public restroom, he finally hits rock bottom and realizes he needs help if he is to salvage his life. That pivotal event leads him to a Sexual Compulsives Anonymous meeting where he proclaims, “I’m not sure I belong here.” Yes, you do.

Joe’s misadventures had to have struck a nerve with more than a few of the gay men in the audience who have at one time or another found themselves cruising a bar, surfing the chat rooms or worse.

Despite the serious subject matter, “The First Step” is a very funny comedy. Some of the best moments come in a parody of “The Dating Game” that illustrates the various sexual proclivities of straight and gay men and straight and gay sex addicts. Later, Leeds uses a fast-paced, clever rap song to demonstrate how gay men construct screen names.

Ultimately, the success of “The First Step” lands on the shoulders of Westrich, who is onstage for the duration of the play. His performance is sincere, at times searing. He is likeable and, most importantly, relatable—especially as he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience.

Westrich is backed up by Noah Levine, Stephan Pineda, Michael Friedman and Gretchen Porro, who portray a wide variety of characters from friends and family members to sexual conquests and fellow sex addicts. Under Leeds’ expert direction, they quickly morph from scene to scene and situation to situation.

Michael McClain’s spare, industrial set is suggestive of a dark sex club and six black boxes are effectively configured to become chairs, beds, tables, desks and more.

“The First Step” may make some audiences uncomfortable. It’s explicit and raw—but never gratuitous or cheap—offering an honest look at the devastation addiction can cause. Look for this excellent production to grab multiple Carbonell nods for the company, Leeds and Westrich.

 “The First Step – Diary of a Sex Addict” by Michael Leeds will be performed through Feb. 12 at Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.


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