“Who are you?”
That’s the opening line from Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers, running now through February 17 at Left Edge Theatre. It’s a question that lingers throughout the Diane Bailey-directed production.
In the good ol’ days, getting to know someone meant hanging out, dating, talking on the phone for hours, etc. With the advent of the cell phone and social media, these days you get to “know” someone via a Google search and a look at a person’s Facebook or Instagram accounts.
But is a person’s on-line presence a true reflection of that person or is it simply a persona crafted for the medium? As Shakespeare said, “… one man in his time plays many parts…”
What part is Ethan (Dean Linnard) playing when he happens to run into his literary idol Olivia (Sandra Ish) at a lakeside retreat? Is he the young, cocky misogynist behind the Sex with Strangers blog that documented 52 weeks of sexual conquests or is he the sensitive, thoughtful scribe now seeking to be taken seriously as a writer? Is it really just a chance encounter between him and Olivia or is there something nefarious going on?
Ostensibly, he’s there for the same reasons as Olivia. He’s there to write. He needs to deliver a screenplay based on the best-selling books compiled from his blog. Olivia, who basically gave up writing after the failure of her first novel, continues to write but only for herself. She’s retreated to the safety of academia, unable to fathom a return to the literary world.
Snowbound in a rural cottage and cut off from the world (no wifi), what’s there to do but talk and, eventually, have sex? In between the bouts of coitus, they get to know each other with Ethan insisting he’s really not the person he portrayed himself as on his blog – ok, he is, but he won’t be to Olivia – and he wants to help bring Olivia back to the literary fold. Will Olivia succumb to his charms? And who is charming who?
Credulity is strained throughout Eason’s story, but if you buy into the premise it’s a rather interesting tale. While often funny, there’s a dark current running beneath it all buttressed by the ambiguity of its ending.
Linnard and Ish do well with their multi-layered characters. By the show’s conclusion, we still don’t know who they really are, which makes sense, because they don’t either.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
‘Sex with Strangers’ runs through Feb.17 at Left Edge Theatre. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Fri. & Sat, 8pm; Sun., 2pm. $25–$40. 707.546.3600. leftedgetheatre.com
Photos by Eric Chazankin
This review originally ran in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.