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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Theatre review: Sex With Strangers is surprisingly smart in spite of its clickbait title

Laura Eason’s drama is also just the right amount of sexy

Google “sex with strangers” right now and chances are you’ll come across an October 26 article from the UK edition of Cosmopolitan titled “13 unbelievable ‘sex with a stranger’ confessions”.

But while Laura Eason’s drama Sex With Strangers shares in a similar clickbait title, you may be surprised to know it shares a much smaller association to Cosmo’s baker’s dozen of titillating stories than you might think.

For while sex is always percolating in this proactively titled two-hander, it is surprisingly more sophisticated as it deals in the nature of relationships and identity in our online world, against the more heady exploration of the changing tide of book publishing.

Arriving at 39-year-old Olivia’s retreat during a snowstorm, the ten-year’s younger Ethan inserts himself into her world. Both writers, Olivia has been wounded by the tepid reception of her first book and now makes a living as a teacher. Looking to resurrect her literary career, she is using the quiet remote cabin to finish her next novel.

Ethan on the other hand has found himself a rising star in the literary world, having written two New York Times bestsellers based on a blog he wrote about his exploits, as a sort of modern-day Casanova. Chronicling a year’s worth of seductions of anonymous women, it is here where Eason draws her play’s suggestive title.

Claiming an admiration for Olivia’s first novel, the two become entangled in both a physical relationship and one of seemingly mutual manipulation.  It is here where Eason’s play takes flight, in a sometimes twisted bond where we are never quite sure who is using whom. This is particularly true in reconciling Ethan’s online persona to that of real life, and the lengths Olivia may go in her desire to become a respected writer.

And even as Eason forces us to suspend our belief as to how the two could so easily hook-up in the play’s opening scene, once this initial skepticism disappears, the play finds a more believable rhythm.

Helping it all come together are terrific performances from Loretta Walsh and Markian Tarasiuk, under the direction of Aaron Craven. And even while the first act doesn’t always quite reach the naturalistic tone necessary as the two rush their lines, in the second the two actors seem to calm down even as the action heats up.

There is a connection between the two in the intimate moments which concludes each scene, and in their mutual desires to finding a voice as writers. Perhaps most surprisingly though, as Eason explores the headier world of publishing, the two make it interesting.

Tarasiuk is particularly good here, finding the strange (there’s that word again) balance between his interactions IRL and the persona he has created in his book. There is a satisfying edge to his performance as he walks the line between the two, never quite sure himself who the real Ethan ia.

Walsh is certainly not left behind though, although Eason makes it slightly more difficult as she so quickly falls for Ethan’s charms. When the tables turn though, there is a rewarding strength to her ultimate decision.

While Eason provides a definitive end to Sex With Strangers, there remains many unanswered questions. In an inferior play this could be frustrating. Here it begins the catalyst for discussion, and for those who find themselves reconciling reality with social media, there may even be a small amount discovery within.

Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason. Directed by Aaron Craven. A Mitch and Murray Productions presentation on stage at Studio 16 (1555 W 7th Ave, Vancouver) until November 10. Visit for tickets and information.

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