Sunday, March 5, 2017

Rep’s “Sex With Strangers” offers comedy and surprises but no cigar.

I used to think of myself as somewhat of a sleuth. After several false assumptions sitting through Laura Eason’s “Sex With Strangers”, I’ve given up on that preoccupation. Eason’s relatively new play, now being given a fine tune -up with director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg in the drivers seat, is somewhat of an anomaly.  

It drove me bonkers trying to figure out why a seemingly sane, intelligent, beautiful, well put together 39 year old teacher and author would jump into bed with a perfect stranger after he revealed to her that he was somewhat of a scumbag a few years earlier.

Connor Sullivan and Lisel Gorell-Getx
If seeing is believing, and I saw it with my own eyes, I kept hoping that there was more to it than sex than met the eye. And believe me, there was lots of bed hopping and groping going on between Olivia (Lisel Gorell-Gets) and Ethan (Connor Sullivan).

Call me a prude, but some things just don't click. The more they headed to the bedroom, the deeper involved and vulnerable she got and more empowered and sure of himself he became.

Yes, there was the appreciation for literary excellence. There was an acknowledgment for the art of writing and lots of conversation (between sex) about what makes a good novel and how to get it published. Ethan was more than willing to publish her next novel on line if she would allow it, no middle- man involved with promises of instant gratification. 

At her home in Chicago
Here’s the setup: Olivia is spending a quiet evening in a remote corner of the earth at a Bed and Breakfast in rural Michigan (Brian Redfern) that she usually frequents. Shortly after she settles in by a warm fire, there is an urgent knock on the door and voilà a tall dark and handsome stranger pushes his way into the living room claiming he is Ethan Kane. He has a reservation. He’s late. He was stranded in the snow- storm. He got lost. He’s hungry. He’s cold and so it goes.

OK. My mind is already racing when it is revealed that he knows more about her than she cares to have him know. What next? With no Wi-Fi, no Internet connection, no outside phone connection, nothing to the outside world, what else can they do but become more familiar with each –other? Well?

Coincidences abound including a mutual friend, Ahmit they both took a class from and that she that she spent time with at this very same cabin. It seems that Ahmit also gave Ethan an out of publication book that she, Olivia had written and he loved it and quoted from it even though it received mediocre reviews. Olivia is proofreading her second novel, but refuses to publish it.

Here’s where the pedal meets the metal. Ethan is an Internet star. Yup. His first published book. “Sex With Strangers” is based on a bet he made with friends at their local hangout bar that he could have sex with a different woman every week for a year. (“It’s not like porn”) And of course he wrote about it in a blog that turned into an on line book.

It made such a splash (“A million people a month”) on the Internet that now a movie based on the book is in the works. And Oh! By the way, he’s ten years her junior. “I like you a lot.” “You’ve known me for ten minutes.” She will actually know him for 2 more years as the play spans that long and moves from Michigan to Olivia’s place in Chicago.

What a difference the windy city can make.

Sonnenberg has tapped two very talented and beautiful actors, who at the very least make some believable inroads to the ‘let’s have sex and we’ll talk about books later’ category. Both are at the peak of their performances and both will later take on different role ‘as the world turns’. Turn about is fair play.  

Sullivan who is relatively new to the San Diego scene is showing up in theatres across the San Diego divide from Moxie to New Fortune, ION and La Jolla’s WOW Festival. Let’s just say that his charm and persistent personality shines through in every part he takes on, his Ethan is no exception.

Lisel Gorell-Getz shows a true authentic admiration sandwiched between a bit of distrust for Ethan’s enthusiasm, but finally succumbs to his charisma and her own desire to be heard. It’s not the best place to be, but me thinks that in Eason’s ending, which is a bit hazy, she will know what to do.

Eason’s dialogue is smart, funny and laced with literary references (it is a play about novelists, novels; famous and not so). Her Emmy Award winning episodes on “House of Cards” puts her in the category of ‘most prolific and successful category’ and for the record “Sex With Stranger” was ‘among the most produced plays in this country in 2016.’

Fine technical work gives this production a comfy look and feel. Brian Redfern’s set, both at the B&B and in Olivia’s Chicago apartment are inviting, easy and relaxed. Anastasia Pautova’s modern costumes, when the actors are in them fit the bill, Anthony Jannuzzi’s lighting is superior and Kevin Anthenill’s sound and original music set both the mood and the actions.

In his welcoming words, Artistic director Sam Woodhouse remarked that with the announcement of this play “Sex With Strangers” new subscriptions hit a high mark. Check it out for yourself.

This cynical sleuth was not convinced.

 See you at the theatre.

 Dates: Through March 19th.
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Phone: 619.544.1000
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: $40.00-$67.00
Venue: Lyceum Space

Photo: Daren Scott


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