In Laura Eason’s “Sex With Strangers,” which is currently playing at Westport Country Playhouse (WCP), we enter a world where sexual relations are as meaningful as searching for partners via the Internet and keeping score of the number of hits. It is also about achieving fame and fortune by writing about such relationships that can live forever on the web.
Said to be one of the most-produced plays in the U.S., this work is described as being “… a romantic drama about ambition and fame in the digital age.” If you buy into this concept you might get a thrill by simply watching two, attractive, onstage performers brush their teeth, wander from sofa to chair, periodically undress, and give the illusion of physical intimacy because, stimulating your emotions or reasoning is not what this play is about. What we have here is amusing dialog with lots of body language to keep your interest.
In this writer’s opinion, the play’s obvious plot follows the same formula as any Porn film – and this silly stuff has not changed since the invention of silent films. In fact, Act 1 has the same, legally required, educational pretext, which allows sexual displays to be presented to the public as an art form. The only difference is that the “displays” in “Sex with Strangers” is like a “Peep Show.” It is taken almost to the extreme and then blacked out for your imagination to fill in. If you feel that the shocking affect of using four-letter words on-stage has worn off and you’re ready for this new-age form of live entertainment, you will not be disappointed because WPC Artistic director Mark Lamos, tries to present something for everyone’s taste each season.
The obvious set-up unfolds in a bed and breakfast cabin in Michigan where “Olivia” (Jessica Love) a thirty-something novelist, is curled up on the sofa with her biographical notes. “Ethan,” played by Chris Ghaffari (who shocked the audience when he briefly dangled his attributes in WCP’s “What the Butler Saw” is now a brash, handsome fellow in his twenties who arrives unexpectedly during a snowstorm. Olivia feels obliged to let him in because the owner of the chalet is a mutual friend and Ethan was unaware of any pre-arrangements.
It turns out that Ethan has a popular Internet site, and proudly boasts of the numerous sexual conquests that feed his stories. Olivia, who just happens to be writer too, is at least ten years older and is far more sophisticated than the intruder and yet, the couple are physically attracted to each other on their very first meeting. What else is there to do when the computers and cell phones are down because of a storm? If you can believe this, you can accept the chatter about Ethan publishing connections, and that his personality inspires Olivia to become a best selling author. And, that’s what happens when sexually active folks get stranded in a snowstorm.
The actors under the direction by Katherine M. Carter are top-notch and the clever dialogue and humor may keep up your interest however, here is one play where the details of the sets, designed by Edward T. Morris take center stage. To watch the transformation from the cabin in Michigan to Olivia’s apartment in Chicago during the Intermission is an attraction in itself.
While Eason is the writer/producer of the Netflix drama “House of Cards,” and has written many plays, there is nothing new about “ambition and fame in the digital age.” “It’s still the same old story” (about one’s fight for glory) as “Time Goes By.”
This review appears in “On CT & New York Theatre” Oct/2017