Sex with Strangers – Review by Tom Nissley

In a winter lodge in Michigan, an aspiring novelist is holed up for a private weekend of writing and editing, and is suddenly interrupted by another lodger, a late arrival lost on the roads to the place, and frustrated because he wished not to be late, and turns out to have been unexpected. But the frustration gets more intense when he realizes that the storm that is blowing outside has cut all access to the Internet. Oh, and by the way, I’m Ethan (Chris Ghaffari). And you are? Olivia (Jessica Love). So begins an amusing tryst, seemingly initiated by Ethan, trying to fill time since the Internet is down, and based on the overwhelming data in his two best-sellers about how to have sex with a different woman every week for a year by just, um… asking! Olivia, at first, is having none of his line, but when he repeats it several times she moves closer, accepts a tentative kiss, and then joins him in ripping off clothes to have a wild mutual embrace. Lights out!

It turns out that Ethan knows more about Olivia than he has reported – has actually read some of her work, and convinces her to push past a publishing block by putting a book she’s got ready out under an assumed name. When she does, it sells nicely. He is also working on a publishing app, that will bypass traditional publishers and deliver books straight to your desktop. But while he is copying the first book from Olivia’s laptop, he also happens to grab a copy of the book she’s just finishing but doesn’t want him to see yet. Now this should be a lesson for all of us in the world of identity theft. Because…

By the next scene, in Olivia’s apartment in Chicago, the lovers (there have by now been three – or maybe four – of these moments when they rip off each other’s clothes for close contact) have an argument about how Olivia’s next book should be published. She wants to accept an offer from a traditional publisher; he thinks that because he gave and she accepted good advice and encouragement for reaching best seller status, she should let him publish the book digitally. Whoa. She refuses. He storms off, and oh dear: overnight he lets the book out of the bag using his new app. When he realizes how bad he’s been, he removes it from the new website, but by now he/she/they have a messy situation instead of a nice clean and clear one, which all goes to prove that sex with strangers may still be a poor choice for some people.

Overall this is a fun production. The actors are eye candy. The ethical questions are presented. Katherine Carter’s direction, over done in places (is it in any way realistic to plunge all the hugging into frantic rip offs? Or to copy two books onto a thumb drive in thirty seconds?) The sets and costumes are pleasant, and the lighting is well managed. Don’t take young kids to this show, and do take your thinking cap.

Tickets and info at www.westportplayhouse.org, or call 203-227-4177 for the box office.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre October 8, 2017

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