THEATER REVIEW: “Sex with Strangers” @ Capital Repertory Theatre

Jenny Strassburg as Olivia and Ben Williamson as Ethan.  (photo: Douglas C.
Jenny Strassburg as Olivia and Ben Williamson as Ethan (photo: Douglas C. Liebig)

Review by Greg Haymes

They meet cute when Ethan, a hunky, smooth-talking blogger, arrives at a remote bed-and-breakfast where novelist Olivia, 10 years his senior, is staying. There’s no Internet access and no TV. Ah, you might think this is going to be another case of bad sit-com theater…

Fortunately that’s not the case with Laura Eason’s smart, digital-age dramedy Sex With Strangers, playing at Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre through Sunday, October 15.

Oh sure, things get steamy, and sparks do fly, but in the end Sex With Strangers is more about identity, ambition and – gasp! – writing than it is about sex.

In the first line of the play, Olivia asks, “Who are you?,” as Ethan’s car pull up to the Michigan B&B where she’s staying in the middle of a snowstorm, and that question resonates throughout the two-character play.

Eason – who has also written and produced for Netflix’s “House of Cards” – has penned a sly, witty script with sharp dialogue, punctuated with some genuine, laugh-out-loud guffaws, but the sure hand of director Stephen Nachamie brings out the heart and intellect underpinning the laughs.

Best of all, there’s plenty of smoldering chemistry between Ben Williamson (Ethan) and Jenny Strassburg (Olivia), two really good-looking actors who can really act.

Strassburg – last seen on the Rep stage in the equally sexy Venus in Fur in 2013 – runs the emotional gamut with nary a false moment as she tries to figure out who the real Ethan is – the kind-hearted man standing in front of her or his crass and callow Internet avatar Ethan Strange.

Williamson has perhaps the tougher role, playing a self-described “dick” and “asshole” with enough charm and magnetism that theatergoers want to believe in his honesty and trustworthiness just as much as Olivia does.

Sex With Strangers continues at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany though Sunday, October 15.

PS: I’m not sure that Sex With Strangers is going to boost sales of Tolstoy’s short stories, but maybe a few theatergoers will pick up Marguerite Duras’ “The Lover.”

Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union
Paul Lamar’s review at The Daily Gazette

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