Sex with Strangers Review - Who Are You Anyway?

When two writers accidentally meet, sparks will fly. Playwright Laura Eason’s play is a journey of discovery for Olivia, Ethan, and the audience. Sexual politics, identity, mass media, hopes and dreams - all intermingle and sometimes clash in this timely production about what it takes to be a success in this technological age. Ethan is an author who made it big by pandering to an audience wanting lots of sex and sin. His book “Sex with Strangers” grew out of a blog telling the world at large about his sexual prowess with and conquests of complete strangers. Now he has a half million followers who just can’t get enough of his pithy writings. And a movie is in the wings.

 

Stephen Loouis Grush - Photo by Michael Lamont

Olivia is a literary writer whose only publication was years ago - and failed with both critics and the public. Now she teaches and is a “hobbyist” writer who doesn’t even try to get published. She can’t handle criticism from “anonymous strangers saying horrible misspelled things about my work.” Clearly, she has been burned and then some.

 

Rebecca Pidgeon - Photo by Michael Lamont

This unlikely coupling begins in a rural bed and breakfast retreat for writers - currently deserted except for these two who find themselves in a blizzard and without internet. Cool Ethan (Stephen Louis Grush) meets neurotic Olivia (Rebecca Pidgeon) - at least ten years his senior. Their views of the world are so different that they inevitably clash. Ethan is pinned to his electronic e-books and multinational followers, while Olivia is surrounded by her books of the paper and ink variety. To Ethan, internet “smells like the future,” while Olivia sniffs her books with a look of pure pleasure and opines that “things are lost...things that were better.” And yet, even though on opposite poles philosophically, they blend sexually. And sex definitely rears its head - although the couple manage to drag the action into the off-stage bedroom. As they grope at their clothing - and each other.

 

Stephen Louis Grush and Rebecca Pidgeon - Photo by Michael Lamont

On some level, each seems to envy the other - Ethan because of Olivia’s literary skills and Olivia because of Ethan’s success. As Ethan tries to seduce Olivia into his techie world, she tries to draw him into her bookish world. Ethan has plans for Olivia and her work - he wants to make her an e-book sensation and has the connections to do it. She wants to go the way of her past literary heroes, find a publisher, and hold her best-seller in her hands. And therein lies a conflict which must be resolved. Which of the two will yield? Or will neither? Is there a difference between an online persona and the real person?

Stephen Louis Grush and Rebecca Pidgeon - Photo by Michael Lamont

 

Director Kimberly Senior keeps the action moving in what could be a wordy play, fleshing out her two characters with skill and sensitivity. Sibyl Wickersheimer’s detailed scenic design makes it possible to immerse oneself in the moment. However, her first act set (the writer’s retreat) is so similar to her second act set (Olivia’s Chicago apartment) that it becomes confusing to know where one is without a playbill.

This play should definitely resonate with the writers’ community. It deals with contemporary issues in a fresh and intriguing way. SEX WITH STRANGERS pits technology vs. history, literary values vs. mass popularity. It raises ideas which deserve careful consideration as technology seems to be outpacing society. 

 

SEX WITH STRANGERS runs through April 10, 2016 with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Geffen Playhouse is located at 10866 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. Tickets range from $76 to $82. For reservations, call 310-208-5454 or go online at www.geffenplayhouse.com.

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