Sex with Strangers is an examination of anatomy, not solely the physical intimacy that the two characters’ share, but also the anatomy of a writer’s work, how once purely exposed is someone’s craft a reflection of their internal spirit or rather a tool to create intrigue and character.
Laura Eason’s intentions seem rather clear, she plays heavily with dichotomy, putting the old and new into constant opposition. Olivia is a cautionary and calculated novelist on retreat in a snowy lodge to work on her new novel. She enjoys the tangible connections that the printed word holds as she hoards her favorite books. Ethan who finds himself at the same lodge is a younger, cocksure, and questionable blogger who rose to fame with his book Sex with Strangers, a sometimes sensationalized story of his exploits of sleeping with strangers. Ethan is also an app developer and attached to technology and his social media presence.
This opposition is instantly apparent, but Eason doesn’t repel their connection. Christian Parker’s direction is eddying, Olivia and Ethan counter each other, but begin to circle the drain, and find themselves in moments of passion that are paired excellently with Andrew David Ostrowski’s subtle lightning that follows the rhythms of the character’s rising and falling heart rates.
Things become complicated once Olivia and Ethan begin digging deeper into who the other is. Strangers no longer seems to suit them, but Olivia can’t help but put her mindset back into her first question “Who are you?” Megan Byrne and Nick Ducassi’s chemistry makes the show’s sometimes strained themes worth watching, they bring an attraction to the surface that is quite irresistible and forges more deeply the complexities they will go on to share.
Sex with Strangers is topical and relevant, but in the current malaise of people deciphering the impact of technology in our lives, it’s hard to find a thought that is truly original. Eason’s own voice sometimes overpowers that of her characters, but regardless her dialogue tends to be smart, quippy, and when it becomes incendiary, the fire catches. Byrne’s performance embraces all of Olivia and is discerning, sensitive, and quite an actress to watch. Ducassi has great control of his charm, poise, and surprising modesty when depicted against his charismatic and arrogant nom de plume, Ethan Strange.
Ethan is quite the provoking catalyst to Olivia. She discovers he has found himself in this lodge due to a friend’s recommendation who also exposed him to Olivia’s first and failed novel. This novel plummeted Olivia’s self-esteem, and her writing though a passion is now something for herself, despite still craving the public gratification of her work. With his current fame and romantic connection to Olivia and her work, Ethan pulls favors to get Olivia the attention she deserves.
This connection begins to unravel in act two. Cabin fever has evaded them, and Tony Ferrieri’s scenic design sleekly takes us to Olivia’s Chicago apartment. Olivia and Ethan in isolation were strongly intertwined, but in the context of life and functioning WiFi, they begin to view one another differently, estranging each other.
The climax of Sex with Strangers rests on the pivotal virtue Olivia struggles with, faith; faith in her own work, faith in the real Ethan. City Theatre understands the topical nature of Sex with Strangers and successfully creates a relatable and engaging contemporary drama.
Sex with Strangers
Presented by City Theatre
Directed by Christian Parker
Written by Laura Eason
Designed by Tony Ferrieri (scenery), Jessica Wegener Shay (costumes), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), Elizabeth Atkinson (sound), Kristi Jan Hoover (photos)
Starring Megan Byrne (Olivia) and Nick Ducassi (Ethan)
For tickets and more information, check out City Theatre’s website here.