Thursday, August 21, 2014

Off-Broadway Play is Much More Than Its Title

Wow. Sex With Strangers. No, I don't mean the actual act. I mean the new play by Laura Eason (first seen at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago) directed by David Schwimmer running at 2econd Stage Theatre. What a smart, thought-provoking, funny and clever duet of a play. Olivia is an author who has retreated to a vacant inn during a snow storm only to find that Ethan has also made a reservation for the same weekend. The strangers have much in common and we quickly learn that Ethan has read her work and already feels he knows her. Yet Olivia knows nothing of Ethan who is a 20-something blogger and rising star in the literary world because of his book: Sex With Strangers. The setting is perfect for these two strangers to get to know each other - and they do…or they think they do.

Schwimmer keeps the play moving and playwright Eason keeps the audience guessing and questioning what is going to happen next. But the real chemistry is found between Emmy Award winner Anna Gunn and Tony nominated Billy Magnussen. These two light up the stage in a way not always found in a two person play. And I'm not only talking about their sexual moments…I mean the pauses between lines, the delivery of Eason's witty banter - I found myself falling for both of them. Ms. Gunn captures so much in her performance as a woman on the edge of turning 40 who feels
she has already lived it all. You sense her resign and yet she is pulled into the exuberance of the young energy of this other writer willing to show her a new world. I loved Mr. Magnussen when I saw him in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, but he shines even brighter in this role. There is an ease about him and the way he turns a phrase on stage that you continue to turn and say "he's adorable." A realness to his delivery that is also multi-layered as you question his sincerity and motives. That's a sign of a great actor when he can constantly keep you wondering.

A writer myself, I was pulled in to so much of the themes in this play from fear of people reading your work to staying up with the ever change world of publishing and books and the question of 'who are we' in the vast world of the internet and social media. The show's website talks about ambition and reinventing one's self, but there are so many more layers to uncover with this piece. Sometimes, it's just easier to talk to a stranger - to open ourselves up to someone new in a way we could never do with our friends. And when you realize there may be something gained from this newfound relationship…well how are you to handle that? 

This play will keep you thinking about it long after the curtain comes down. But you need to get there soon as it's closing by end of August. I did notice some well known Broadway producers in the audience the night I attended. Let's hope they are thinking of moving this show. It definitely deserves to be seen by more.    

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