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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Sex With Strangers
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.