Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago
Behind the racy title of Laura Eason’s play lies a “smart, funny, insightful” story “very much of its 2011 moment,” said Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun-Times. In creating a brief fling between a woman on the cusp of 40 and a 24-year-old blogger famous for sharing details of his sexual conquests online, Eason has delivered a “pitch-perfect” exploration of our “wired (and wireless) world” and how “the allure of instant connection” is eroding real-world relationships. At a small snowbound inn where she’s struggling to complete a book, Olivia, an obscure novelist, begins accepting tutorials in social media from the “winningly obnoxious” Ethan. When Ethan, true to form, also begins to put the moves on Olivia, Steppenwolf ensemble members Sally Murphy and Stephen Louis Grush give this unlikely couple just the right mix of “insouciance, sadness, and sexiness.” “The option-dangling bloodhounds of both Broadway and Hollywood” are undoubtedly already “salivating” over their story.
A few kinks need to be ironed out first, said Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. E-readers and iPads figure more prominently than when the play debuted, at Steppenwolf’s First Look festival in 2009, but the idea of blogging as a cutting-edge use of technology has itself “already grown stale.” The direction needs work, too: Jessica Thebus’s staging “feels one beat too slow throughout,” and she’s allowed Murphy to play Olivia “as very young and needy,” which “fights the point of the play.” Still, Sex With Strangers is a “very clever piece of writing.” It will be no surprise at all if producers outside Chicago begin to see its possibilities.