Friday, August 1, 2014

Sex with Strangers ***

When strong sexual attraction clashes with literary incompatibility, which will win out? How does a young person deal with the acute anxiety of being temporarily without access to the internet? How can we ever really know someone? These are some of the questions posed by Laura Eason’s entertaining two-character play at Second Stage. Olivia is a near-40 novelist turned teacher who was so traumatized by her first book’s lukewarm reception many years ago that she refuses to show anyone the manuscript of her second novel. Ethan is a 28-year-old hunk who has chronicled his sexual exploits in the blog after which the play is named and turned them into two e-books that spent 5 years on the Times best-seller list. They meet on a stormy winter night at a remote Michigan b&b where they both have come to work, Olivia on her novel and Ethan on the screenplay for his first book. This set-up has more than a touch of sitcom about it, but a sitcom with good dialog and literary ambitions. Fortunately for us, Olivia and Ethan are played by Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Billy Magnussen (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike), two very appealing actors who have palpable chemistry. They have sex on the table, on the couch, in the bed — and that’s just in Act One. They are less compatible out of the sack. Ethan has read and admired Olivia’s first novel and pushes her to resume her writing career with his help. He longs to get past the image of his previous books and write something serious. Olivia cannot help wondering whether the bad boy persona in Ethan’s books is just a character or the actual person. Complications arise in the second act, many of them arising from the perils of the publishing world in the digital age. We have to take it on faith that both are talented writers. Andromache Chalfant’s sets are fine, particularly her set for Olivia’s apartment. Esosa’s costumes befit their characters. David Schwimmer’s direction is assured, although I did feel the sex scenes were longer than necessary. I found the characters to be more like constructs than real people, but the committed acting allayed my qualms. As summer entertainment, the play hits the mark as long as you don’t examine it too closely. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including intermission.

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