Writers meet, and the story unfurls
By Myron My
In Laura Eason’s Sex With Strangers, a female novelist meets a male blogger at a bed and breakfast in rural Michigan. She loves books, he prefers ebooks. She likes reading the classics, he prefers living writers. She prefers to keep her private life private, he lives his life on-line. Despite their differences, the two are drawn to each other and are forced to question the choices they’ve made in their lives and the ones they are going to have to make in the future.
Will Atkinson offers a strong performance as Ethan, finding the right balance of brashness, cockiness and arrogance to his sweet, charismatic and endearing nature. Ethan is the type of guy that many of us despise but secretly want to be, and it’s Atkinson’s work in Sex With Strangers that really has you debating that position.
Atkinson’s pairing with Carissa McAllen as Olivia is a great casting choice and the two play off each other well. McAllen convincingly portrays the uncertainty and insecurities Olivia feels in being judged by the public on her writing; however, there were scenes in which I felt McAllen needed to express her character’s anger and frustrations more deeply than what was displayed on the night I attended.
While the space at Q44 Theatre is on the small side and the set itself is more compact than other productions, directors Gabriella Rose-Carter and Casey-Scott Corless use it to their advantage. They adroitly create an intimate world for Olivia and Ethan, that – while certainly influenced by outside factors – ensures the important moments of their lives are captured within the confines of the four walls.
The set and lighting design by Corless and sound design by Justin Gardam effectively show the differences of the two lifestyles being featured. We witness what feels like a battle between a time when life involved face-to-face interaction and real talent being rewarded, and present-day life with its iPhone obsession and the ability to be famous for being famous.
In the bed and breakfast, there is no television and the Internet has dropped out, wherepon an incredulous Ethan exclaims, “How will I look stuff up?” as he repeatedly checks his phone in vain. The environment here is therefore quiet and calm, just like our initial impressions of Olivia. The transition between scenes occur with a flash of light from an imagined Polaroid camera and the photo developing, often capturing an embrace or a kiss shared before the lights dim and calming music plays as the actors perform a quick costume change or set up the next scene.
By contrast, the second act in Olivia’s Chicago apartment has both characters constantly on their phones or their computers. They are no longer giving each other their undivided attention and it’s this technology that could be the doom for their relationship. The scene changes now occur with thumping club music and a red strobe light, reminiscent of an alarm warning of impending danger.
Q44 Theatre is fast building a reputation for producing a varied repertoire of excellent shows, and Sex With Strangers is another success story. Despite being first performed in 2009, the play still has plenty of relevance in the struggles to find meaningful connections – not only in what we do, but also with each other. In a society where there is a constant cacophony of ringing, buzzing and tapping, making these connections and having these experiences is becoming more difficult, ultimately leaving us wondering what we have missed out on, much like Ethan and Olivia.