Theatre Review: ‘Sex with Strangers’ at Horizon Theatre

12495154_10153451080842091_4356877133967102548_nBy Manning Harris

Horizon Theatre’s “Sex with Strangers,” by “House of Cards” writer Laura Eason, is a two character piece that has become one of the most produced plays in the country this year. It’s easy to see why.

I haven’t seen a play this good about cyber vs. real identity since Actor’s Express’ 2007 production of Carlos Murillo’s “dark play or stories for boys.” “Dark play” means games where some know the rules and some don’t.

In “Sex with Strangers,” which has only two characters, Olivia (Megan Hayes) and Ethan (Michael Shenefelt) make up the rules as they go along.

Olivia, an attractive woman in her 30’s, is staying at an informal writer’s retreat in rural Michigan; it’s snowing, and she seems quite isolated. She’s published one novel that wasn’t a commercial success and is at work on another. By the way, the internet service is temporarily down; cell phones can’t be used either.

Suddenly there’s a knock on the door, and into her life pops Ethan, a few years younger than she, handsome as all get out, and full of sexual energy. He’s also a writer, and he not only knows who Olivia is, but also knows that Olivia is talented—more talented than he, despite her unsuccessful novel.

Ethan, on the other hand, has been busy blogging his way to fame, has thousands of followers, and reports regularly on his sexual escapades, which he has with alarming frequency.

Olivia envies Ethan’s fame and connections; he envies her talent. What a convenient time to fall for each other, and they do, big time. As I mentioned—no internet, no cell phones, snow outside—what to do? How about scorching the stage with unbridled love and lust? They can and they do.

Olivia thinks her time for big-time success as a writer has passed her by; she thinks that love has done the same. Ethan, with his soothing words and nice abs, persuades her that both fears are groundless.

But Ethan has serious ambition; also, all his sexual exploits in “Sex with Strangers” (his blog title) are plastered all over the internet. Can they really trust each other? And as Lisa Adler’s program notes ask, what would you do, and who would you become, to get what you want?

Shakespeare said that conscience makes cowards of us all; playwright Eason says the internet and digital age make strangers of us all. In a virtual world, who can you trust?

Megan Hayes and Michael Shenefelt own the stage; they seduce us with their sexiness and their moxie. If that isn’t enough, they charm us with their vulnerability. Ms. Hayes,who lives in Los Angeles, is returning to the Horizon. Mr. Shenefelt is making his Horizon debut (maybe his Atlanta debut; I’m not sure); it’s an auspicious one.

The fabulous Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay wow us once again with a great set; lighting is by Mary Parker.

Laura Eason has written a very clever play, if not a great one. But she needs two fine actors to carry every moment. Here she’s got them. I’d check them out. The show goes on through May 1.

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.

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