The Play-Goer: Colonial Player’s Sex With Strangers

Is it real … or just virtual?

photo by Colburn Images/ Dylan Roche as Ethan and Elizabeth Hester as Olivia have chemistry and commitment to both their characters. Theirs are not stage kisses; they seem real.

       First, the elephant in the room: Sex with Strangers is not about sex with strangers. Rather, it is about the author of a book, Sex with Strangers, created from a blog written by young millennial Ethan, then bedding a different woman each week for a year, on a dare. The play is about Ethan, his attitudes, his trustworthiness and his generation’s seeming inability to connect without being “connected.”

         It is also about Olivia, a decade his senior, a writer as well, but in the more traditional printed-page book, collection on the shelf, flesh-and-blood kind of life as opposed to Internet blogging. Her first novel failed. She is working on her second, the sole guest at a Michigan bed and breakfast in a snowstorm that has knocked out all Wi-Fi and other electronic methods of communication.

         In walks Ethan, trying to figure out how to make that appendage stuck to his arm, that smart phone, find a signal. His hilarious desperation is the first of many laughs we will enjoy in exploring the generation gap between these two. He is a boisterous blustering 28-year-old eager puppy who got rich off of his generation’s magnetic attraction to the salacious online. She is a late-30-something traditionalist wallowing in her lack of success, affection and personal touch.

         Much more is at issue here. Ethan and Olivia, alone in the inn, hook up, in the parlance of the more modern hipsters who see sex as recreation. Is she another conquest? Or is he in love? Can she believe him when he tells her it’s something deep? Can he believe her allegations of love? Or is true love linked to his promises to guide her to success by repackaging her novel as an e-book?

         As the relationship progresses, the pair’s conversations tend to sex. “I hate to reminisce about sex,” she says after an initial encounter. “That’s all I do,” he responds. Encounters that could be awkward in Colonial Players’ intimate setting are suggestively staged by director Dave Carter and nicely lighted by Alex Brady, who gives us just enough early spice before we fade to darkness. Sarah Wade’s musical selections also work well here, hitting each moment just right as the tunes carry us into the scene change.

         It could have been staged with less discomfort if they simply kissed and left the rest to our imaginations, as we know what’s going to happen. But this is a play about power, and in this setting we see these two wield it in physical as well as verbal ways. Besides, everyone pretty much keeps their clothes on until the lights go out.

         Elizabeth Hester as Olivia and Dylan Roche as Ethan have chemistry and commitment to both their characters and each other as actors. Theirs are not stage kisses; they seem real. Feelings seem real as well.

         Hester is outstanding, natural and believable in her disgust at this man’s success. We wonder why she falls into his arms, but we can almost understand it. Roche has the ignorant bombast of his generation that oldsters recognize as intellectual emptiness, all in the face of the kind of Internet success that makes us wonder what we did wrong working 45-hour weeks just to struggle along. 

         Kudos to director Carter for his deft touch, which has shorn both actors of reticence about being physically and emotionally open with each other and the audience. Laura Eason’s scrip, which debuted in 2009, dips a bit into soap opera toward the end, but Carter’s pacing keeps us focused on personal dynamics. Are they each, deep down, who they say they are? What is lust worth without trust? Eason doesn’t give us answers, but Hester, Roche and Carter make riding along with the questions a funny and often thought-provoking journey.

 

About 2 hours, with one intermission. Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Costume design: Jennifer Cooper. Set design: Edd Miller.

Playing March 18: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, at the Colonial Players Theater, East St., Annapolis, $23 w/discounts, rsvp:

www.tickets.thecolonialplayers.org