Sex with Strangers at Westport Playhouse

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

How private are any of our lives in The Internet Age? How private can our lives be anymore? And do you believe what someone tells you about them self- or what you read about them on the internet?

These are some of the questions raised by playwright Laura Eason in Westport Country Playhouse’s production of ‘Sex with Strangers,’ running now through October 14th.

Though first produced Off Broadway in 2011, ‘Sex with Strangers’ still feels relevant today- maybe even more so.

 photo: Jessica Love, Chris Ghaffari by P. Chenot

Featuring just a cast of two who meet seemingly by accident, Olivia- played by Jessica Love- and Ethan- played by Chris Ghaffari- seem an unusual match. Both are writers but he is younger and more successful- and really seems to want to help her with her career. As it turns out he kind of stalked her and intentionally ran into her in an obscure, snow-covered bed and breakfast in Michigan.

He’s also much more open about his life…or lives. See, he says he is not really like his “author self.” That is the one who started blogging about having sex with strangers at least once a week for a year.

While he admits that happened- and says he isn’t proud of some of his behavior- he insists he’s changed… and that all that bad stuff written about him is in the past and, well, embellished.

So Olivia, confronted with his version of reality, has to decide if she believes him– or all she sees about him on the internet- which turns out to be much more than she is prepared for, even after his confession.

Olivia is a much more guarded person. She even refuses to let Ethan read her new book she is finishing writing- so he says, “We did what we did and you won’t let me read your book?” And she replies, “No- too personal!”

 photo: Jessica Love, Chris Ghaffari by C. Rosegg

Jessica Love’s performance is reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s character in ‘Bridges of Madison County’- tempted to have the affair with the stranger while also flattered by his interest in her- though Love’s performance is not quite as finely honed as Streep’s.

And Chris Ghaffari’s performance captures Ethan’s swaggering self-confidence and arrogance; as well as his insecurity and frustration when he finds he can’t always get what he wants.

Director Katherine Carter keeps the pace moving pretty well with only a few “stagey”-looking moments and Eason’s story has some genuinely funny moments- and some suspense- when Olivia has to decide if she “owes” Ethan enough to make a risky gamble on having him publish her new book or going with a more prestigious and established publishing house- which she only got an offer from because of Ethan.

Laura Eason is a writer and producer of ‘House of Cards’ so you know the dialogue will be sharp. And this story also raises many questions based on what we can find out about people from a simple search of Google and Facebook. But it wasn’t as compelling as it could have been and I didn’t care about the characters much, which would have added to the play’s payoff.

Like Ethan and Olivia’s relationship, it had several good moments but could have been more meaningful- so I give ‘Sex with Strangers’ at Westport Playhouse 3-and-a-half stars out of 5. It runs through October 14th.

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This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”