Review: Sex with Strangers by Laura Eason. Produced by ReAct Theatre. Directed and Scenic Design by David Hsieh. Lighting Design by Chrystian Shepperd. Sound Design by Meghan Roche. With Alissa Cattabriga and Aaron Cammack. Now through April 16, 2017 at 12th Avenue Arts.
I’m a tad tardy with this review since I didn’t have an opportunity to see ReAct Theatre’s SEX WITH STRANGERS its production of the popular play by Laura Eason until halfway through its run and now in its closing weekend…so, I’ll cut to the chase and give it a big thumbs up! It’s one of the best productions from ReAct that I’ve seen with a talented cast, assured direction and a terrific script.
Sex with Strangers is a simple two hander about two writers who meet cute in a remote writer’s retreat in the wilds of Michigan. Olivia is pushing 40 and a tad depressed. Her only published novel garnered a few decent reviews a few years prior, but no sales and it’s now out of print. She’s written a new novel but she’s discouraged about its prospects and is finding herself in a bit of rut with every aspect of her life as a single woman teaching in Chicago.
Enter “Ethan Strange” who’s young (28), sexy and very successful as a blogger/writer. He arrives at the remote lodge (where Olivia is the only other occupant) to work on the overdue screenplay of his book titled “Sex with Strangers” which was based on his blog of the same name. Ethan cockily started the blog a few years earlier after being challenged by a friend to pick up and bed a woman once a week for a year. Surprisingly, the blog took off and Ethan became an internet superstar with a huge social media following that led to two best selling books and now a movie deal.
Naturally, Olivia is both attracted and repulsed by Ethan. He’s all bravado and cocky arrogance and she’s appalled by the misogynistic tone of Ethan’s work and jealous of his success. But, she’s also a bit turned on by him as well, especially as Ethan reveals more tender sides of his personality including the revelation that he has read her first novel and liked it very much. He’s also keen to shed his “bad boy” persona and work on more serious books and projects including a new app that would introduce his millennial fan base to more serious forms of literature. When Ethan suggests that Olivia can reboot her writing career by re-issuing her first novel under an assumed name that Ethan will then boost to his fans, she is hesitant. But, after sleeping with Ethan, she begins to fall for him and when her book actually starts getting her new attention, she finds herself drawn to both Ethan and the power he wields.
Going into this play, I was also hesitant…the title is a bit blunt and it seemed like this could be another annoying bad play about a whiny dysfunctional straight couple. Plus, I wasn’t sure what it was…a romantic drama or a thriller of some kind. I mean, it does start out with a woman alone in the woods meeting a strange man. But, like Olivia, the charms of Ethan’s ‘Sex with Strangers’ began to seduce me because Laura Eason’s play SEX WITH STRANGERS is well-written and clever. True, you need to use some suspension of disbelief about certain plot points; things happen much faster than they do in real life, but the premise is certainly very topical and both characters are interesting and multi-layered. Part of me could be the fact as a writer myself, I’m going to be drawn to stories about other writers and the world of books and publishing and media in general. But, Sex with Strangers is well crafted and I think it has a story that many people can relate to.
I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a play about meeting a hot young hunk who swoops in, makes sweet love to you then helps make you a best selling writer?
WHERE’S MY ETHAN!!!????!!!
While we wait for him to show up, I need to point out that this is a well done production of a good play. ReAct founder David Hsieh has done a fine job of staging and while his production design is a tad simple (it could use a bit more set decoration in my opinion and needs to look a tad more upscale), it does the job. Both actors are very good here though I will have to quibble a bit that age-wise, they’re a bit off. Alissa Cattabriga does an excellent job as Olivia and Aaron Cammack’s Ethan is seductively charming but there doesn’t seem to be much of an age difference between the two; they both seem about 32.
ReAct’s Sex with Strangers is in its closing weekend. It’s well worth trying to score a ticket to check it out.