Teenage Kicks 

What comes around goes around in Life Before Sex

Can you remember life before sex? Drinking in your parents’ basement, sweaty boys and primped girls staring longingly into one another’s eyes until...nothing? If the first steps towards a sexuality propagated on beer and gossip are lost to the years or a haze of pot smoke, the one-woman show Life Before Sex will bring you right back to the trenches with the requisite code words (bazook for break up) and dissertations on the stages of togetherness (with; with with; with with with).

Moira Keefe brings her remarkably accurate and timeless story of the awkward stages of teenage sexuality to Missoula for a benefit performance for the New Crystal Theatre. A former resident of Missoula and an accomplished actress, Keefe has performed Life Before Sex and several other autobiographical one-woman plays in theaters and festivals in North America, Europe and the Pacific, including the Dublin Theater Festival (Ireland), the Wellington Fringe (New Zealand), the Victory Theater (Los Angeles) and the Post Theater Company (New York City).

Keefe’s plays grapple with such emotionally-charged subjects as birth in Life After Birth, in which she delivers a watermelon, and marriage in Staying Married, performed with her husband and fellow UM alum, Charlie Oates. But resurrecting the 11-year-old Life Before Sex for the Crystal benefit has been a new challenge. “All of a sudden, three weeks ago I get out the script again, and it’s a whole lot different because now I have a 16-year-old. She will not be seeing this!” Keefe says.

In addition to her new parental perspective, returning to the body and voice of a teenager on Long Island in the ’70s presents its own complications. One of the few props that Keefe uses is a balance beam, on which she variously prays, lies prostrate after having been bazooked, and demonstrates her talent for gymnastics.

“I can still sort of do the split, but my knee comes off a little bit,” she claims, a challenge for staging as well as her ligaments. And as for the thick Long Island accent: “Life Before Sex, in terms of acting, is kind of a big challenge for me, because it is going back to that person. It’s now thirty years ago. All of a sudden I had to go back to that heavy duty New York accent.”

Along with performing Life Before Sex, written after rediscovering her high school diaries, Keefe will be reading from her latest work, Life with a Teenager: I’m Having a Hot Flashback. Moving full circle from the 16-year-old self of Life Before Sex to raising a 16-year-old herself, Keefe touches on the humor and fear in revisiting the teenage years from a different perspective.

Speaking of her daughter, Keefe says, “She’s the exact opposite of me, which I’m really thankful for.” But with a nine-year-old also in tow, she knows she may not be out of the woods yet.

Though maybe she doesn’t have that much to worry about. Paraphrasing her eldest daughter, Keefe recalls her saying, after having accidentally gotten a peek at the script of Life Before Sex, “I knew Mom was bad but I didn’t think she was that bad. I’m never gonna get away with anything because [she’s] done it all and [she’s] on to every trick in the book.”

Among the anecdotes in Life with a Teenager that have required a once-over from her daughter’s editorial eye is the story of the daughter’s boyfriend, more specifically his mother. Keefe came to find out that in the not-so-small city of San Diego, where she and her family now reside, her daughter’s beau is the son of the marriage counselor she and her husband went to three years ago.

“What are the chances, when I’m pouring my heart out to this woman and I see these cute five-by-sevens of her son on the table, that three years from now that kid would be hoping and groping on my daughter?”

With an eye for detail and her retro slang, Keefe has a talent for turning this kind of squeamish everyday coincidence into a humorous commentary on hormones and the been-there-done-that attitude of Baby Boomer parents.

But her work isn’t simply a series of near-crises turned to laughs.

“You always kind of take a chance when you do autobiographical material,” she says. “You’re gonna piss somebody off at some point. That’s why my parents never saw Life Before Sex. I knew they would not appreciate it at all.” Keefe’s honesty is as pungent as her humor, but it is underlined with a respect for her family and herself, which is a key to her success.

And when Keefe returns to Missoula on Sunday it will be with family in mind. She and her husband met in Missoula, and her first daughter was born here. Long before her wide-ranging success, Keefe was a regular at the Crystal Theatre. “When my daughter was a baby, I used to bring her there and nurse in the Crystal and let her watch a movie.” Now she is back to help support it for the next generation of reckless-teenagers-turned-doting-parents.

Moira Keefe will perform Life Before Sex and Life with a Teenager this Sunday, Nov. 17, at 7 PM in the UM University Center Theater. Tickets are $10, available at the door, at Rockin Rudy’s, or by calling 240-2489.

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