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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Sex With Strangers

I don't want (Sex With Strangers) that to be the first thing of mine that you read. I'm.... I'm glad for what it's done for me. — Ethan
 Sex with Strangers
JoAnna Rhinehart and Kyle Coffman (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
First produced by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in 2011, Laura Eason's romantic comedy arrived in New York three years later and is recently making the rounds of many of our regional theaters, among them the George Street Playhouse in association with Philadelphia Theatre Company. It is a smart, savvy and enjoyable ultra contemporary two-character study of sex and success.

It is also about seduction, deception and role-playing in the burgeoning age of the Internet, smart phones, and ipads — all the things that make life these days imponderable for some and enticing, even addictive to others.

This ultimately bittersweet, but often funny, slightly turbulent and occasionally torrid romantic story has plenty to say about love and honesty in today's high-tech market place. It's about what happens during a raging snow storm between an aggressive young man and a somewhat older insecure woman at a bed & breakfast/writers retreat in rural Michigan. Director David Saint has given the play a little spin that neither changes its perspective nor make it any more effective — the male is white and the woman is black.

Brash twenty-eight year old Ethan (Kyle Coffman) has had incredible success authoring a crude but highly exploitable sex blog called "Sex With Strangers." Creating an image of himself as a part real, part fictional Casanova/memoirist in a constant quest to have sex with strangers, it has evolved into a best-selling book with a motion picture deal currently in the works.

Olivia is a self-effacing thirty-eight year old school teacher whose first published novel did not get critical approval or achieve commercial success. As a result, she has put her writing career on hold, that is except for the novel that she is currently working on with the help of her former classmate, who, as it turns out, is Ethan's writing teacher.

Coffman, who was in the original cast of Newsies, puts a lot of vigor and well-calculated posturing into his role. And he get high marks for making devilish duplicity his primary connection to Ethan. What I fail to see is the essential charm that apparently breaks down Olivia's defenses.

Rhinehart is closer to the mark playing the modern technology dunce who we see, in a clever and satisfying twist of the plot. Soon enough she figures out with Ethan's help and support, how to match her lover's use of the Internet, as well as the world of self-aggrandizing and of self-publishing. She makes a good case for her vulnerability but not for the romantic curiosity that presumably drives her into a sexual relationship the with the aggressive but somehow too impish seducer.

Director Saint keeps the two players reeling between empathy, apathy and ecstasy. In Act II, the play becomes more focused on Olivia's progress from being an insecure novice to becoming her own promoter, motivated, of course, by Ethan's savvy and self-assurance. How and why their affair hits the skids is dealt with in Olivia's Chicago apartment.

Jason Simms has designed the handsome setting that revolves from the interior of a cozy B&B to Olivia's apartment.

Sex With Strangers offers us an occasion to think seriously and also humorously about the true value of turning ones personal life into a public spectacle. There is also true value to be found in a play that makes you smile when a serious moment is interrupted by a smart phone. For more plot detail and with a different cast please read my CurtainUp review based on the Second Stage Production in 2011 here.

Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason
Directed by David Saint
Cast: Kyle Coffman (Ethan Kane), JoAnna Rhinehart (Olivia Lago)
Scenic Design: Jason Simms
Costume Design: Michael McDonald
Lighting Design: Christopher J. Bailey
Sound Design/Original Music Composition: Scott Killian
Production Stage Manager: Cameron Berne
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ
For ticket and performance information: (732)246 - 7717 or
From 03/08/16 Opened 03/11/16 Ends 03/27/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on matinee performance 03/12/16
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