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Sex with Strangers

What happens when a 28-year old male social media expert, who blogs about his sexual encounters and sells tons of spin-off books, meets a female of a certain age, who writes polished literary fiction, but is still waiting to be discovered? Sex, of course; but you knew that. Still, can two people, almost a generation apart, with totally different notions of writing and erudition, coexist, let alone maintain a relationship? Playwright Laura Eason wanted to find out, so she brought Ethan (Michael Kingsbaker) and Olivia (Paige Price) together at a remote writer's retreat in the middle of a snowstorm, with the Internet down.

Paige Price as Olivia and Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan
Paige Price as Olivia
and Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan
Photo: Michael Ensminger
At a time when there are still successful novelists who write their first draft in longhand, as well as significant (though dwindling) audiences who read the finished product, Eason's exploration raises important, though subtextual, questions about the future of literature and the effects of digital media on consciousness and freedom.

A number of Olivia's old friends from school have established careers as writers, and Olivia still clings to the hope that one day she, too, will embark on a traditional journey of agents, publishing houses, reading tours, decent sales, and a string of contracts. But something in her mind is holding her back.

Ethan harbors no such aspirations. His soft-porn blog, written with the consent of the numerous women with whom he's had sexual relations, is so popular, the electronic book version sells like hot cakes. There is another book and a movie project in the pipeline. Yet, Ethan would like to put that part of his life behind him, and publish a legitimate novel under his own name.

Paige Price as Olivia and Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan
Paige Price as Olivia
and Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Olivia and Ethan clash from the start, he's brash and cocky, she's skeptical and modest; yet, there's something to be said for being utterly alone with someone who understands what it's like to sit down by oneself and, for hours on end, sift through the heart and the mind, and other parts, for a story worth sharing, however low-brow or high-minded it may be. Besides, Ethan read Olivia's first book twice, which flatters her; so, after the awkward first kiss melts the ice, it's a short tumble onto the couch, for starters—perhaps too short, as certain potentially decisive moments seem to pass with barely a thought.

Sex with strangers can be fun, if both parties are willing to compartmentalize, but, as Olivia and Ethan find out as the days pass, there's a lot to be worked out. When the Internet comes back up, and Olivia discovers the extent of Ethan's notoriety in the blogsphere, she's at a crossroads with her lover, who has reignited her career and her desire, but whose past runs afoul of her social mores.

Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan and Paige Price as Olivia
Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan
and Paige Price as Olivia
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Kingsbaker and Price are well cast and take us for a unique emotional ride, but while the chemistry is there, the brief staging of the quickly accellerating foreplay for each sex scene (before the lights fade and the scene ends) could have come off as more genuine, if the lights had come down sooner and the action was a little more risqué; otherwise, it's more suggestive than real.

Despite all the fun and stimulating conversation, the ambiguity here, and at the end, leaves us ambivalent; but perhaps that is Eason's way of telling us to find a catharsis somewhere out in the night. Come to think of it, Sinatra had a huge hit with "Strangers in the Night."

Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of Laura Eason's Sex with Strangers, directed by Christy Montour Larson, runs through February 20th. For tickets: www.curioustheatre.org. or 303-623-0524.

Bob Bows



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