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Sex With Strangers
Olivia (Holly Twyford) is a writer who teaches for a living. Her first and only novel so far was published years ago to mixed reviews but she's working on another. Her fear of criticism has prevented her from trying to publish since her traumatic debut. Plus she is pushing forty and has the tick-tocks about having a child.
While holed up happily reading a book by the fire in a friend's b&b, the kind of place that welcomes writers who need to get away from it all in order to be able to concentrate on their writing, the door bell rings. There's a raging snow storm outside and no one is expected. Enter Ethan (Luigi Sottile), a stranger to Olivia. He's driven through the storm, needs a bed for the night and he's hungry. Niceties are not his thing which makes Olivia suspicious of him. She asks "Who are you? . . .and what are you doing here?"
Identity is just one theme playwright Eason examines in her tautly written, well-paced, intriguing play. Truth is another. Ethan, ten years younger than Olivia, is definitely a dude, a blogger, connecting to his world via nearly every electronic devise currently on the market. But, as Olivia explains, everything is down — no ‘net, no phone, no tv because of the storm. An incredulous and frustrated Ethan fears that if he cannot get online, "people will think I am dead."
Ethan's claim to fame is that he bet his friends that he could sleep with a different woman each week for a year and blog about his conquests. That blog and the seduced women's counter-blogs went viral making Ethan a celebrity plus a winner of a big bucks contract to turn it all into a movie. He loves the attention and feels no compunctions about the compromises he has had to make. And he's got an idea for a new app he thinks is revolutionary.
Opposites attract and that is certainly the case with Olivia and Ethan. They come at the modern world from diametrically opposite sides which makes for some very snappy dialogue. Especially since the well known and highly respected Holly Twyford is giving the best performance of her career. Even her silent takes are engaging. As Ethan, Luigi Sottile, who has done a lot of work at Chicago's Steppenwolf, is very strong as the macho show off who can be surprisingly sensitive when that's what's called for. His Ethan has all the bluster of a Chicago winter.
Laura Eason's script has some reversals that will surprise and others that do not. She's a very accomplished playwright with a string of gigs on her resume as actor, director and story editor on the very popular Netflix series House of Cards. She and indeed the actors are blessed to have Aaron Posner as their director. He has a sharp eye and ear.
JD Madsen's set — a comfy country inn in the first act, Olivia's book-lined urban apartment in the second — feels just right. The view from the windows, thanks to Lighting Designer Andrew Cissna, gives an excellent sense of the heavy snow storm as well as the passage of time represented by daylight and brightly-lit skyscrapers against a night sky.
Out with the old and in with the new but at what price? Can you trust what you read? Can you trust another human being who re-invents himself? Can you trust what you read on the net?! Those are some of the interesting questions Sex With Strangers asks its audience to think about. It works.