Through Sun 11/13
Sex with Strangers by Laura Eason, now playing in the Cleveland Play House’s Outcalt Theatre, isn’t really about a hookup, though you might not be able to tell that from the title. Yes, two writers are stranded in a snow-bound B&B, and yes, they do have sex. The introverted slightly older Olivia (played with verve and passion by Monette Magrath) had hoped to spend quiet time fretting over her latest novel and what reviewers said about her work. Her peace is shattered when extroverted Ethan (Sean Hudock) appears. Hudock makes his character’s charming side as obvious as his crass side as he alternately amuses Olivia with his quick wit and repels her with his vulgarity.
Olivia is an old-school novelist who yearns to have a printed book on the New York Times bestseller list and to be published by classy publishers Farrar Straus and Giroux — AKA, FSG. (This is something we of a certain generation all want.) Ethan is a media-savvy blogger, a Snapchat/Facebook guy with his eyes on the popularity prize and getting plenty of $$$-generating clicks.
Life gets complicated for the two stranded writers when they discover that the snowstorm has brought down the Internet. Oh no! No fact-checking, no Twitter or Facebook. Anyone devoted to their Internet life (hand raised here!) can recognize and laugh at Ethan’s dismay. Although Olivia says she just wants to be left alone (but does not retreat to her room), she’s intrigued despite herself. They strike up a conversation and boredom leads to the bedroom before the end of the first scene.
But there’s more to this often-comic play as directed by Joanie Schultz, whose directing shows understanding of complicated social expectations. (Hi Joanie, the program notes you wrote say you worry about reviews — don’t do that! Reviews just show one person’s response.) The play is actually about what happens to their connection over the years as they themselves turn into “reviewers” — this time of their relationship. While the playwright doesn’t fall back on the old “It was all a dream” trope to resolve the play, I wish she’d given us more information about Olivia’s core values so we would have more to base our theories about “what happened next” when the play ends without obvious resolution.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a writer, I’m pretty sure you will like this play and laugh (perhaps uncomfortably) at how beautifully it exposes the “writer mind.” It’s witty, well-paced, and very smartly done. (Need I add that it’s for adults only, although all the sex is discreetly offstage.)