Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of Lost Lake
I must note that I saw a local production of Sex with Strangers last year that was quite good and I wasn't sure how Westport Country Playhouse's staging would measure up. As it turns out, this production is a real pleasure and offers a completely new take on the play.
Eason's work is as much a look at dating in the 21st century as it is about the way one becomes established as a writer in this day and age. Olivia and Ethan are both writers and they meet "cute": Ethan arrives at a snowbound bed and breakfast where Olivia is also staying and, essentially, talks Olivia into letting him stay. It should come as no surprise, considering the title of the play, that the two characters become sexually involved.
However, what's particularly nice about this production is that sex actually takes a backseat to the complexities between the two personalities and how they begin to form a romantic relationship. Indeed, the director has chosen to minimize the sex scenes (the lights immediately go down every time they start to get physical with each other) in favor of mining how Olivia and Ethan truly relate to each on other levels, and one can't keep from wishing that everything will go well between them.
Of course, without solid acting, it would never begin to work. Fortunately, both Jessica Love and Chris Ghaffari are superb performers. Jessica Love is able to create a complex, multi-faceted character one can really care about. I had seen this expert performer in a play called The Moors, but she is even better here and brings added shadings to her portrayal of Olivia that make the character deeply fascinating and funny.
Matching her perfectly is Chris Ghaffari as Ethan. When we first meets Ethan, he is shown in an extremely unflattering light. Almost boasting that he is really a shallow and creepy person who misuses women, it takes a bit of time to get used to him. Thanks to Ghaffari's warmth and good looks, however, one can see the virtues in Ethan, especially in how he eventually wins Olivia over and how he helps her get better established as a writer. Ghaffari was just about perfect in the ensemble of Westport Country Playhouse's recent production of What the Butler Saw, but he proves without a doubt in Sex with Strangers that he is an ideal leading man, capable of expressing a wide range of emotions, and he makes his character as interesting as his costar's.
Katherine M. Carter has a wonderful design team at her disposal, including scenic designer Edward T. Morris, who supplies not one, but two excellent sets. Costume designer Caitlin Cisek does well in dressing the characters, and lighting designer Alan Edwards' work in illuminating the play is everything you could ask for.
Overall, the wonderful work of both the actors and the creative team make this Sex with Strangers an entirely surprising and intelligent evening of theatre.
Sex with Strangers continues performances at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through October 14, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.