Sex with Strangers at Steppenwolf Theatre


Sunday evening found me enjoying a mini-reunion with college theater friends. Being college theater friends, a play at the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre won the selection for entertainment.

steppenwolf.org

The show was Sex with Strangers, written by Laura Eason, directed by Jessica Thebus, and starring Sally Murphy and Stephen Louis Grush.

The story concerns two writers of widely divided generations, technologically and their relationship as members of the same profession and as lovers struggling with their different understandings and dealings withing that profession.

Olivia is nearly 40, Ethan is 24. Sensitive, intellectual Oliva wrote a novel when she was in her twenties; when the book failed to make waves she was crushed and has decided that her second novel will never be shown to a single soul. Ethan started a blog as a college douche-bag on a dare in which he proposed to sleep with one stranger each week for year, the stipulation being that he was to meet them in person and pick them up via good old-fashioned conversation (versus meeting online). The blog was a hit, spawned a best-seller, which is in turn spawning a movie.

They meet at a writer’s retreat, sex happens, relationship ensues, accompanied by Ethan’s eagerness to help Olivia get her new book out there—in the newfangled, electronic marketing-enabled way.

Obviously they disagree about a lot of things, and their differences push the audience to ponder the evolving internet world versus actual world versus how much of a difference is there anymore?  The play explores the seemingly inherent clash between public and private totally ignored by the internet generation who blog everything to everyone all the time. This conflict is made manifest through an examination of how the publishing industry is and will continue to evolve. Real books, ebooks, novelists, bloggers, real fiction, creative non-fiction, creative memoirs, inspiration, exploitation…

Ponderous.

As other reviews noted, despite the inclusion of an iPad, the context did feel a little dated. Not once is Facebook or Twitter mentioned—things that would be so material to the existence of someone like Ethan every second of every day.

But the main points for your pondering pleasure (or confusion) do not necessarily require that the full capabilities of Ethan’s smart phone be discussed. Assuming that as a theater-goer you are more interested in experiencing the pondering of the greater issues at hand.

That is my thought.

Other production thoughts…

I found Olivia’s costuming to be a bit off, a bit too young for the type of character she is supposed to be—I just do not know a ton of 40-year-olds who wear leg warmers and jeggings.

I enoiyed the set. For the first act taking place at a Wisconsin writer’s retreat house, the majority of the back wall is occupied by a picture window looking out into a snow-covered, bare-limbed-tree landscape.

Also, it snows. Repeatedly.

I love on-stage weather.

And I love weather lighting behind a window.

It is the most fun, both to see and to do.

Bottom line: I did not love Sex with Strangers, but I enjoyed it.  The ideas were thought-provoking and I enjoyed the avenues of pondering that it produced, especially as a an aspiring writer/blogger myself who happens to be the daughter of authors learning to navigate the digital age after years of typewriters—Publishing a Kindle edition? OK, sure.

Sex with Strangers is worth a see, especially if you can get a nice deal on tickets (which we did). I think it would be especially interesting to those who do blog; it gives cause for a little self-reflection on the self-production of your blog.

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Filed under Out & About, Theatricizing

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