“Sex With Strangers”
“Sex With Strangers,” Laura Eason’s fascinating and provocative play, is currently being given a grand, supremely well-acted production at TheaterWorks. Though the title might conjure up images of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and other sexually-themed works, Laura Eason’s play is as much about how couples meet each other in this new digital age and, equally, about how writers now get their work published. Starring the sterling Courtney Rackley and Patrick Ball as the couple in question, Rob Ruggiero’s production is pitch perfect and intriguing and completely riveting throughout. Other pluses in “Sex With Strangers” are its chic scenic design by Brian Prather and appropriate costumes designed by Amy Clark. This play truly goes in a number of unexpected directions and brings up many different and unlikely subjects. Still, TheaterWorks’ staging of “Sex With Strangers” is likely to be most memorable for the excellent acting by Courtney Rackley and Patrick Ball, who fully inhabit their roles.
“Sex With Strangers” is set in two different locales: a bed and breakfast in Michigan in the first act and a Chicago apartment in the second. As the play opens, Olivia (Courtney Rackley) has settled in at the bed and breakfast to focus on her writing. Almost against her will, Ethan (Patrick Ball), a fellow writer, arrives at Olivia’s door and talks his way in. The story of the play is really about how they gradually get to know each other. I would hate to give too much of the plot of “Sex With Strangers” away, for there are more than a few key surprises in this show. Suffice it is to say, though, that the couple does indeed start a sexual relationship (the sex scenes are very discreetly lit by lighting designer John Lasiter), but the content of the play is just as much about the process of writing and getting published as it is about how a couple manages to connect in the 21st Century.
This production is blessed with two actors who are absolutely ideal in the two leading roles. Courtney Rackley’s Olivia, who is supposed to be somewhat older than Ethan, is just great and she is wonderful at conveying a variety of emotions all at once. Patrick Ball is entirely her equal as Ethan and he balances a mixture of crassness and sincerity that is pretty remarkable. Certainly, director Rob Ruggiero deserves credit for eliciting such terrific performances from his leads, though Courtney Rackley and Patrick Ball are so finely tuned to their parts that they barely seem to be acting at all—they simply are these characters. Indeed, it almost seems strange at the curtain call to realize that Olivia and Ethan aren’t real, flesh and blood people. The acting by Courtney Rackley and Patrick Ball is so fine and honest that their performances almost exist on an entirely different level.
This is not to say, though, that “Sex With Strangers” isn’t filled with a great deal of humor and laughter, as well as some spiky dramatic moments. It’s just that one gets so caught up in the lives of these characters—and the things that both bring them together and pull them apart—that one hangs on nearly every word. Playwright Laura Eason also explores the complexities of writers getting published in a time when e-books and on-line blogs have almost replaced actual books. Her writing of the many various stages that the relationship between Oliva and Ethan undergoes throughout the play is just as superbly wrought and feels entirely genuine.
The very title of the play, “Sex With Strangers,” will no doubt entice many theatergoers to come to TheaterWorks to see this show. But this play explores so many aspects of the intricacies of relationships, that one is likely to be just as moved and intrigued by this show as one is titillated. The heroes of this production are definitely director Rob Ruggiero and his two wonderful stars, Courtney Rackley and Patrick Ball. Their combined efforts truly make “Sex With Strangers” at TheaterWorks entirely worth seeing and bring out the very best in Laura Eason’s writing.
“Sex With Strangers” continues performances at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through April 17, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.theaterworkshartford.org or call the box office at 860-527-7838.