Wellfleet Harbor Actor Theater kicks off their summer season with another titillating title, “Sex with Strangers.” In spite of the shamelessly shocking name, the drama is truly attention-grabbing, compelling and timely.
Laura Eason is not only a talented American playwright, but also a noteworthy screenwriter. She is credited with writing a number of episodes for the award-winning Netflix drama “House of Cards.”
Ethan (Jon Kovach) is a twenty-something who literally and figuratively has the world in his hands, through his smart phone. The savvy entrepreneur made a bet with his friends that he could pick up a stranger at a bar each week for a year, live and in person, as opposed to the new norm, meeting through the internet. Airing his dirty laundry on the graphic “Sex with Strangers” blog, Ethan became an internet sensation. He not only has two “New York Times” best-selling books, based on his blog, but he is also writing the screenplay for the upcoming movie.
Caught on the other side of the internet divide due to her age, Olivia (Nichole Hamilton) is a published author and teacher who prefers to hold a good book in her hands, not a tablet. About 15 years ago, she received “mixed reviews” for her well-written but badly marketed first novel, and now the soon-to-be 40-year-old is reluctant to publish her latest work and face the criticism again.
As an avid reader of “living authors” (he’s chipping away at “the dead ones”), Ethan thinks Olivia’s first novel is “brilliant.” Infatuated with her, he orchestrates a chance meeting at a writer’s getaway in the Michigan woods. Due to a storm, the two are alone in the retreat.
Ethan doesn’t understand why Olivia isn’t willing to take another chance at publishing with her latest novel, and he tries to persuade her to post her work on the web. He claims he doesn’t care what is being said about him on the internet, as long as people consider him relevant enough to talk about.
Even as a feminist, Olivia is at once repulsed and drawn to the cocky young man who seems to have no inhibitions and makes no apologies for how badly he treats his conquests — saying many women sleep with him now just to be featured in his blog.
The two characters are polar opposites and are as different as cats and dogs. In keeping with this animal analogy, Kovach portrays Ethan with loads of energy. He bounds about the stage like a golden retriever, flopping on the furniture and energetically eating and drinking with abandon. Hamilton plays Olivia more like a feline, happy to curl up on the couch — her needs met with a good book and a warm fire. When provoked, as a protective measure, Olivia isn’t afraid to lash out at Ethan, making sure he maintains a safe emotional distance.
Through Jeffry George’s direction, the two professional actors balance each other with a natural ebb-and-flow rhythm, helping to build the story’s tension and intrigue.
Brooke Stanton’s costume designs captures the age differences between the two characters, along with their personalities, with Olivia’s classic and elegant style and Ethan’s post-grunge look.
Michael Steers’ scenic design mirrors the play’s energy. The first act takes place in a rustic cabin with exposed framing in front of a romantic silhouette of backlit trees (Patricia M. Nichols’ lighting) and gently falling snow. The next act, with its mounting tension, is placed in a contemporary Chicago apartment, with a large window framing a vibrant cityscape.
The captivating play “Sex with Strangers” explores the challenge of modern relationships when everyone’s past and present, both the good and the bad, are just a few keystrokes away. Additionally, it thought-provokingly examines the costs of straddling two worlds at once: present reality and the internet, and how for some, insidiously, the two are already one.
“Sex with Strangers”
At Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater
Through June 10
Information and reservations: 508-349-9428