Does sex in the digital age lead to love – or vice versa? Some intriguing questions posed by playwright Laura Eason’s tantalizing and provocative drama, SEX WITH STRANGERS. The Crimson Square Theatre Company, in residence at Beverly Hills Playhouse, has picked a winner to open their 2021 season, a play that is both engrossing and surprising in its simplicity. In addition to a beautifully nuanced play and a talented two-person cast, Benjamin Burt is also making his directorial debut, along with two other individuals from Crimson Square’s mentorship program led by mentoring director Allen Barton (who doubles as owner of the Beverly Hills Playhouse).
What happens when blog sexsation Ethan Strange (Casey King) – with over a million followers no less – meets gifted but obscure novelist Olivia (Cameron Meyer), gently quiet and focused on her inner life? And, more to the point, how is it that Ethan’s published memoir-ish and pretty porn-trashy book called “Sex with Strangers” has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for five years, while Olivia’s brilliant novel barely sold a copy? And even more intriguing: what happens when this sexy hunk in his 20s meets the older but very attractive Olivia? Who turns out to be a little more experienced and worldly than she appears at first glance?
As it turns out, Ethan has made a hobby of cruising hot spots to pick up ready, willing, and able young ladies for the sole purpose of one night of hot sex. And converted his escapades into that best-selling tale of lust in the digital age. Surprisingly, even when the one-night stand candidates know that he plans to write about them, they are happy to comply – and even “talk back” on social media to insure their five minutes of fame. But, after offering titillation to thousands of “flies on the wall,” maybe Ethan is getting tired of his steamy image and want to write something honest and meaningful. When the two who represent such different worlds meet, Ethan and Olivia may surprise everyone.
SEX WITH STRANGERS will definitely hold the audience’s attention as it delves into the myriad issues which define coupling in the digital age. Burt’s skilled direction is evident everywhere as he helms the clever plot as it twists and turns. Meyer and King are excellent as the lovers trying to navigate the maze of modern love. Of particular note was their non-verbal communication which almost superseded the words they spoke. They drew the audience into their convoluted relationship with skill and fascination as spectators witnessed the funny, involving, and often poignant moments in their discovery of where they fit in the modern universe.
Kudos on the intimate and cozy set with sound design by Allen Barton and Jeffrey Sun – and very appropriate music to set the mood. SEX WITH STRANGERS is a must-see for those interested in appreciating what live theater can produce, especially in this not-quite-ended pandemic time. By the way, although the theater is indoors, seating is socially distanced – and the lobby is in the great outdoors. Everyone in the audience also sported a mask.
SEX WITH STRANGERS runs through October 17, 2021, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Beverly Hills Playhouse is located at 254 South Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Tickets are $30. For information and reservations, go online.