How We Love/F*ck explores sexuality with a simple honesty that draws you in, exploring a topic normally too taboo for discussion. That’s why we need it.
My 7th-grade health class had one day of sex education. A presenter came into our classroom and told us the story of a girl with a red paper heart. Every time this girl had pre-marital sex with someone new, her heart was ripped in half. When it was time to give her heart to the boy she wanted to marry, all she had left was a little red stub. And an STD. The presenter made sure to add that part, too.
That was sex ed. The whole thing. Nobody even talked about genitals. High school got into the biology of it, but that’s all it ever was. Tab A; slot B; a baby comes out. Practical sex education is what you find out on your own, usually through trial and error.
Maybe that’s why Lillian Isabella created How We Love/F*ck. Why she visited dozens of female-identifying sex experts to talk to them about their knowledge and experiences. How We Love/Fuck portrays these testimonies, as well as Lillian’s own experiences, with tenderness and honesty. Sometimes, her confessionals show her growing and reacting from what she’s learned. Other times, she’s reflecting on her past, often in light of what she–and the audience–are learning.
The end result is an hour-and-a-half-long journey through female sexuality, as told by her subjects. A stripper compares her personal sexuality with the one she portrays for work. An anonymous woman tells how, as a child, she promised Jesus every night that she would stop trying to explore her body. Barbara, a sex educator, tells the audience about a test to tell the difference between a disturbing kink and one you’re just afraid you might like. Watch someone perform the act, she says, and become aware of your body. If you find yourself leaning back, then you know it’s not right for you. If you find yourself leaning forward, then perhaps it’s worth a try.
The set is simple. Director Lorna Ventura’s stage direction is minimalist. Actors Lindsay-Elizabeth Hand, Tulis Mccall, Greer Morrison, and Nancy Sun, shift characters with a shawl or a headband. As one speaks, the others are usually still, or else performing delicate reactions like a silent Greek chorus. Lillian takes a back seat when she isn’t narrating. She is off to the side, scribbling in a notebook as you imagine she was when she first heard the monologue.
How We Love/F*ck is all about those voices, and Lillian’s voice as well. Many of the interviewees had no one to talk to about their sexuality when they were growing up. Most had to figure it out on their own. For some of them, you wonder if Lillian was the first person they had ever talked to. How We Love/F*ck is the story of how Lillian and her subjects discovered themselves. It’s an archive of their mistakes and realizations, shared out loud because people need to tell them, and hear them.
In many ways, Lillian’s play feels like a talking-heads documentary. Characters are introduced, share their experiences, and exit, as part of a larger story. In fact, Lillian tells one of her subjects early on that she is creating a documentary, not a play. As time goes on her explanation changes, and it’s easy to see why. In the confines of the Cherry Lane Theater, with its small stage and 50 or so seats, the monologues feel intimate and confessional. Like you’re in a trusted circle, waiting for your turn to talk.
How We Love/F*ck might not be for everyone. These kinds of stories might make you feel uncomfortable. Then again, you probably have stories of your own. I know I do. I won’t tell you that you need to see this play, but I will give you a test. Take a moment to become aware of your body. Are you leaning forward, or are you leaning back?