Laura Eason writer/producer on the television series House Of Cards (Netflix) is the author of this interesting and thoughtful play now on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse. Sex with Strangers is part drama, part comedy that focuses on the modern digital age of dating, relationships, and how we learn about the people we meet.
The play has only two characters, Ethan (Chris Ghaffari) and Olivia (Jessica Love). Olivia is a professor and talented but unsuccessful author in her late 30s. She is staying in a woodsy bed and breakfast in the Michigan woods. She is all alone and is there to clear her mind, disconnect from the world and perhaps finish a long overdue novel.
Her tranquility is soon broken by the unexpected arrival of Ethan, another guest during a snowstorm. Ethan is a late 20s blogger and author who interrupts the quiet of the cabin with his demands for food, and general disgust when he discovers there is no wi-fi at the remote cabin. The audience discovers that Ethan is also a writer and internet sensation and has produced two books based on his weekly sexual exploits with strangers he picks up in bars. The titles of the books is where the name of the play is derived. Olivia is not only a English professor but had published a book years earlier that was the subject of mixed and some harsh reviews. The experience of rejection of her novel despite her talent has had such a lasting effect on her that she is unable to finish her second novel despite her talent and ambition. The two are true opposites.
The conversation in the first act between Ethan and Olivia is in short, rapid exchanges that reminded me more of text messages than true conversation. However as the characters learn more of each other, the conversation evolves and becomes more warm and complex . We find that Ethan is not here by accident and knew about Olivia, her first book and that she would be at the cabin. Indeed he has used the internet to read up about her and seek to out photos of her. It as if he was reviewing an online dating profile and shows the stark differences between the two characters. Olivia is absorbed by the written word, great authors, and dreams of joining her literary idols on the shelves. Ethan is a scrappy internet blogger, who we find dreams of leaving the shallow persona that has made him a success and become a real author. The strangers do become romantically entangled despite their obvious differences. However, Olivia uses the internet to find out more about Ethan and his books and finds she is repelled by his sexual exploits as well as the counter-blogging by women that he slighted.
Act Two shifts gears and is set in Olivia’s apartment. The lives of the two very different strangers become entangled not only in their strange sexual attraction, but their shared ambition to be published. In Act two we see a change in the characters and their relationship as they use each other to achieve their personal goals. The play is a commentary on our digital world, the personas we create online, and how we interact with each other online and in person. The play is sprinkled with humor which helps break the tension between the two characters.
Jessica Love who has Broadway and off Broadway credits in resume does a fine job as Olivia. Chris Ghaffari who was on the Westport stage last year in the hilarious “What the Butler Saw” did an excellent job as Ethan.
The scenic design by Edward Morris were really well done and constructed and drew the audience into the play. The woodsy bed and breakfast cabin was very realistic and effective.
An interesting and thoughtful play with direction by Katherine M. Carter.
The play runs through October 14th 2017
Westport Country Playhouse
25 Powers Court Westport Ct
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