San Diego Rep’s ‘Sex With Strangers’ rolls with the times
To answer what might be the obvious question: Yes, “Sex With Strangers” is kind of about what its title would suggest.
But Laura Eason’s play, which is getting its local premiere this week at San Diego Rep, is about quite a bit more, too: the effects of tech on our perceptions of other people, the persistence of certain backward attitudes about women, the power (and limitations) of the written word.
And the way the piece bounces off contemporary culture has shifted markedly over time, says Eason, a writer for the Netflix series “House of Cards” (and a former rock ‘n’ roller) who wrote the first draft of “Sex With Strangers” in 2008.
“The volume is kind of turned up as it bounces up against the moment we’re in,” says Eason, who in the 1990s was a bassist and singer-songwriter for the Chicago band Tart (and is now working on the third play in a trilogy about the music life).
“In previous years, I think the question of online identity - of our relationship to technology, and how our relationship to technology is interfering with or enhancing or (otherwise) changing our relationships with each other - was sort of more forward.
“And now in the Trump moment, (there’s) this real question of, where is the misogyny in our culture, and how does it live?”
‘Sex With Strangers’
When: In previews. Opens March 1. 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. (Some exceptions; check with theater.) Through March 19.
Where: San Diego Rep’s Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, Gaslamp Quarter.
Tickets: $40-$67 (discounts available)
Phone: (619) 544-1000
“Sex With Strangers” centers on an encounter at a remote country inn between a somewhat disillusioned novelist named Olivia (played at the Rep by Lisel Gorell-Getz) and a younger writer, Ethan (Connor Sullivan), who has made a splash with a lurid blog documenting his sexual exploits.
Olivia, whose first novel fell victim to vapid marketing, is drawn toward the amorous Ethan (although she knows only vaguely of his reputation); he professes to be a fan of her work but turns out to be perhaps not quite the authentic guy he might seem.
Part of what’s at work in the play (directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg), says Eason, is “Olivia’s feeling of not being able to be seen. Of her voice being packaged and framed in a particular kind of way that has prevented her from being seen for who she really wants to be seen as.
“And then Ethan kind of trafficking in misogyny to get traction, to get attention, and to get success - all of which has worked.
“And then how much of that is a mask, and how much of that is who you are? And how much of what one says in that kind of public context can be walked away from?
“Because that’s the other thing now: stuff doesn’t go away. Ethan is trying to shed his skin, but he lives in a world where that’s not possible.”
Since “Sex With Strangers” premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2011, Eason has become part of a vanguard of playwrights who’ve helped remake TV.
And yet as much as she’s been enjoying the ride with “House of Cards,” the juicy political drama starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, she says that seeing a new season drop is still not quite the same as “sitting in a room with 200 people when everybody laughs, everybody gasps - the rush of that.
“And I love theater people. What we do, we do for love. I’m lucky I work on a TV show that I feel is incredibly artistic. It doesn’t feel like an art/commerce divide to me at all.
"(But) I think for a lot of us, the balance and the mix of the two feels really essential to our creative lives.”
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