Monday, March 07, 2011

'Sex With Strangers' Well Performed, But Not All That Fulfilling -- Theater Review

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow,
Theater Review

Sex With Strangers
A new play by Laura Eason
Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Thru May 15, 2011

Very impressively staged in Steppenwolf's upstairs theater, Laura Eason's Sex With Strangers is a play whose parts are better than its sum.

The two-character drama stars Stephen Louis Grush and Sally Murphy, both first-rate performers who are typically excellent here.

Grush plays Ethan, a 24-year-old blogger who writes openly about his sexual exploits and has turned his blog into a book that shares its title with the play. Murphy's Olivia, pushing 40, is a novelist who hasn't published anything in years but is working on her second book as the show opens.

There are many possibilities here, and perhaps that's the problem. For while Sex With Strangers is about several potentially compelling topics--romance between people of different ages & perspectives, the art & emotion of writing, the immediacy and openness of blogging vs. the deliberate nature of authoring long-form fiction, the way publishing and technology has changed, the voyeuristic nature of the Internet, the propriety of compromise, and more--the result was too much of a hodge-podge for me to care very much about any of it.

Often feeling like a scenario better suited for a mediocre romantic comedy movie, Eason's new work--which was first presented at Steppenwolf's 2009 First Look Festival--has a narrative that seems too compressed and contrived to hold real emotional heft or provide societal insight, and despite the talents of the actors, neither of the characters are fully realized nor particularly empathetic.

This is subject matter with potential and there are a few laughs and enough to think about to make the post-show discussion worthwhile. If, like I did, you can grab a $20 day-of-show ticket, 'Sex With Strangers' may be worth experiencing, despite its flaws. It's quite possible that you may find something there that just didn't connect with me.

But in the end, it just doesn't add up to any all that fascinating, or despite its name, even titillating (one guy in the post-show discussion complained that the stage went dark for all the sex scenes). Despite an attractive couple of partners, this 'Sex' just ain't all that great.

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