Sex with Strangers has just opened. It’s from Rebels and Misfits Productions, opening their second season with a series they’re calling “An Intimate Theatre Project”. And it is intimate, certainly. It’s in a former private home that now seems to have been turned into an event space.
The two-person play began with work at the excellent Steppenwolf company in Chicago. It’s by Laura Eason. It opens at what seems to be a bed and breakfast that’s used as a writers’ retreat, during a blizzard-y night in Michigan. (Myself, I wouldn’t have been hanging out reading in the living room wearing a silky robe and a matching chemise on a night like this, but YMMV, you know?) Comes a-rapping at the door another guest, running late. The proprietor isn’t around, so Olivia (Kelly Hummert) of the silky robe lets him in.
He’s Ethan (Christopher Tipp). It turns out Olivia is a writer, a novelist, and Ethan’s a writer, too. He’s eye candy, younger than Olivia, and ranges from self-assured to cocky. She teaches, the first novel had mixed reviews and she’s hesitant about her next one. But he says he not only recognizes her name, he knows her work and thinks it’s wonderful. In fact, they have a mutual acquaintance.
Is this a seduction? A romance? A con game? There’s definitely sex, although for those who fret about such things, there’s no full nudity. Tipp’s performance leaves us wondering for almost the entire play, in particular, as to whether he’s the real turtle soup or merely the mock. Hummert, who’s also the artistic director of Rebels and Misfits, lets go of herself sooner than her opposite does, but seems more into the writing than into the romance.
The play is directed by Michelle Bossy. While the performances themselves are very workable, the script’s first act drags to a fair degree. The concept of being very near the actors who work in the room rather than on a stage is a good one – think The Rooming House Plays at last year’s Tennessee Williams Festival – but the logistics can be tricky in terms of closeness. And how respectful is it to end the play the same way scene changes are handled – music and then lights up? The audience is left puzzling with nary a hint from the staff (who are in plain sight) that it’s over, and no curtain calls for the actors. (A quizzical look and spread hands to a staff member at that point was ignored.)
The venue is right next to the largish parking lot on McPherson east of Euclid. Not wheelchair accessible, and wooden folding chairs, which are blessedly quiet, but some people may want to bring along a cushion.
Sex with Strangers
Rebels and Misfits Productions
through April 15