If you’re like me, wondering whether you should attend Portland Center Stage’s most recent production, the Laura Eason play Sex with Strangers, you can relax. The play is much tamer than many with less suggestive titles. It’s the psychological blood and guts of having a relationship that makes this work so interesting.
Sex with Strangers, it turns out, is the title of a book written by Ethan (Christopher M. Smith), one of the play’s two characters. Ethan is a blogger made famous by his salacious book documenting a year of one-night stands. Ethan barges in on Olivia (Danielle Slavick) at a writer’s retreat house in snowstorm. He makes a lot of noise, drinks her wine, and asks, “Am I acting like a dick?” You need to hold that thought. Ethan seduces her and then decides he wants to have a relationship.
Olivia is a writer too. A gifted novelist. She’s at the writer’s cabin to kick back for a few days and do an edit on her most recent, most promising book. So the play is all about writing and publishing as well as sex. With the snappy dialog and insights into the world of writing, publishing, and digital media it’s a fast-moving, highly entertaining play. And it becomes apparent that more, perhaps, is going on here than just a relationship.
Sex with Strangers, directed by Brandon Woolley, runs through November 22 in the Ellyn Bye Studio at the Gerding Theatre. Photo by Kate Szrom.