With the weight of Donald Trump's election last week sitting so heavily upon us, the poignant and absorbing comedy "Sex with Strangers" served as a perfect antidote—at least for two hours spent in the dark listening to pitch perfect dialog and watching a compelling story unfold.
Stung by the failure of a long-term relationship with an older man and burnt by criticisms of a first novel written so long ago its rights have reverted to her, Olivia has settled for a teacher's life as she approaches 40. Played with charm and heart by Canadian actress and sculptress Tanya Clarke, she sits now in a borrowed bed-and-breakfast on a snowy Chicago night, polishing a new novel she will show to no one.
Into her life bursts Ethan, a much younger writer firmly past the digital divide who has leveraged a million-click blog chronicling his sexual exploits into a pair of best selling books that have Hollywood beckoning. Played by Beau Mirchoff with a cocksuredness only the young can enjoy, he launches a well-practiced assault on Olivia's body and psyche.
The collision of their brief love affair—or sexual romp or whatever it is when you find yourself in bed together on the first night that you meet—propels Olivia's and Ethan's lives in new directions, pushing her slowly out of the cocoon she has made for herself and ultimately perhaps drawing him away from the soulless sexual exploitation of women his quick wit and matinee idol good looks have afforded him.
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Perfectly suited for the 40-seat theatre's intimate setting, "Sex with Strangers" turns on a terrible irony. As Ethan tells Olivia, "Reading your book made me love you; reading my books made you hate me." Can they bridge the gaps that divide them, or must they simply learn hard lessons from their encounter?
Especially affecting is the way the two talented actors so thoroughly inhabit their characters, their attraction for each other entirely believable, their inevitable arguments bubbling out of their conversations just as they do in real life.
The play's two acts draw a stark line between the kind of lives driven by a loyalty to decency and principle and tweet-driven ones bouyed solely by allegiance to whatever will attract a crowd—and back we are as the lights come up to the world our new president is preparing for us.
Among the two well-matched actors' long lists of credits, Beau Mirchoff has appeared in MTV's "Awkward" and Tanya Clarke in Cinemax's "Banshee."
Produced by Allison Flanagan, "Sex With Strangers" plays Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m. through December 11th (dark November 25th & 26th), at The Michael Woolson Studio, 8801 Cashio St., Los Angeles 90035. Get tickets here. RSVP: to Allison Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook here.
Editor, Hollywood Progressive