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Sex With Strangers Previews

WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel Profile Photo
WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel
Broadway Legend
joined:5/26/05
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/8/14 at 10:47pm
I was at the first preview tonight and I thought some interesting ideas were brought up and discussed, but the play, especially in the second act, had no dramatic tension or forward motion.

It's a bit difficult to discuss the plot without giving too much away because not all that much happens for a while. Basically the once again shirtless Billy Magnussen plays a successful, young writer named Ethan who meets a fellow author, Olivia, played by Anna Gunn. They find themselves snowed in at a bed & breakfast for writers in Northern Michigan.

Ethan began a blog in college where he would sleep with a different girl each week and then write about the sexual encounters. It was trashy, but well-written enough for him to attract a following and have a publisher print the episodes in "Sex With Strangers." Along with the sequel, the two books stayed on the NY Times bestseller list for five years.

Olivia on the other hand wrote a good, but misunderstood novel years ago and her second book was never picked up. In the decades since she has become a teacher, but now she is working on a new book and is possibly ready to enter the world of publishing again.

The two talk a lot about the realities of getting a book published today, what modern readers want to read/what becomes popular, e-books and how technology has changed reading and discovering authors, the role of critics vs 500 Amazon reviewers, etc.

A lot of this is interesting, but it's almost like a PBS panel discussion on the subject rather than a dramatic play. The characters have plenty of potential to be interesting, and the performances are rather winning; trust me, if they hadn't cast these two actors the piece would suffer. The dialogue is strong. The plotting isn't quite on the same level.

The first act ends and it really felt like it could have been over then and there. The second act felt like a different play entirely. There was a change of location and it became more plot-driven out of necessity, but then realizing that nothing had happened in the first 70 minutes, this act was burdened with hurdling through time (complete with epilogue). It felt overstuffed and messy compared to the first act which had a polish and determined pacing.

I wouldn't enthusiastically recommend it, but if you want to spend a few hours in an air conditioned space and see some good performances then go for it.
Marie: Don't be in such a hurry about that pretty little chippy in Frisco. Tony: Eh, she's a no chip!
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RippedMan
Broadway Legend
joined:8/14/05
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/8/14 at 11:16pm
Hm. Sounds like an interesting piece. It's def. a smart idea to give it such a provocative title.
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broadwaydevil
Broadway Legend
joined:2/16/11
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/8/14 at 11:32pm
I also just came from the first preview and walked away with a somewhat similar take, though I think I enjoyed it more. I know you touched on it, but I don't think it can be overemphasized enough how phenomenal Anna Gunn and Billy Magnussen are in their respective roles. Both completely embodied their characters and somehow made what could be a very hard to believe relationship with two stock characters natural and emotional.

Whizzer sums the plot up well enough and is right to suggest that the second act is too plot heavy, though I think that's more of a result of trying to make the plot deeper and push the story further than it needs to be instead of a pacing issue with the first act. There were many moments in the second act where the play could have ended and each minor twist started to feel superfluous.

That said, the writing is absolutely wonderful and it is one of the first plays I have seen set in the modern day which was actually believable. As is the case with any such play, it can be fairly difficult to work in technology into the script. No one would believe a play set in our era where a character never checks his or her cell phone, though it can be challenging to include these elements without distracting from the dramatic tension of the piece. The play handles this brilliantly in the first act by putting the characters in a wireless dead zone in Michigan where they are supposed to be able to write, free from distractions.

The transition to "the real world" of Chicago works well, and the play makes an insightful commentary on the present day when the characters confront the realities away from the Eden of the cabin. This is the true tension of the play; it is the struggle between the necessities and conveniences of modernity and the nostalgia and simplicity of the past. The play works best when Eason is content to explore those elements: the battle between the ebook versus Olivia's somewhat naive desire to hold a hard copy, Ethan's ignoring of Olivia in favor of texting his mother, and the stifling of creativity that comes with the ruthless and ill-informed online reviewers - meta, I hope.

In this sense, I actually see the second act as completely necessary as the contrast to the world of days gone by in the first act. What is unnecessary is when Eason feels she must craft a deeper relationship between two people that could only ever really be a fling, or as Ethan so eloquently puts it, "Sex with Strangers." As good as Anna and Billy are, the more their relationship becomes more serious and Eason entirely abandons Aristotle's unity of time, the more it appears the playwright wanted the commercial story Ethan warns Anna every publisher will demand. The show has all the right pieces that should make it brilliant, but the last 15 minutes especially make it feel like Eason sold out for "bags of money."

The show can certainly be trimmed. A good place to start would be with the truly unnecessary epilogue Whizzer mentions. Besides that, I would certainly recommend what is an ambitious and funny play featuring two wonderful actors in their primes.
Scratch and claw for every day you're worth! Make them drag you screaming from life, keep dreaming You'll live forever here on earth.
After Eight
Broadway Legend
joined:6/5/09
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 12:03am
A lack of credibility undermines whatever value the play otherwise has, which, unfortunately, is precious little.

One can't believe that an educated, intelligent woman would fall for such an obnoxious jerk. At a certain moment, she wonders out loud how she could have been so stupid. Yeah, that's exactly what we've been wondering all evening long.

Worth skipping.
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Jordan Catalano
Broadway Legend
joined:10/9/05
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 12:13am
^ I'm shocked you didn't like it!
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broadwaybelter
Broadway Legend
joined:11/26/04
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 12:42am
I've only read this play. But I certainly found it a potentially engaging evening of theater, but also realize it's light on driving action. Does anyone know if it's changed from the Steppenwolf production?
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rosscoe(au)
Broadway Legend
joined:8/20/05
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 01:33am
After Eight color me shocked.
Well I didn't want to get into it, but he's a Satanist. Every full moon he sacrifices 4 puppies to the Dark Lord and smears their blood on his paino. This should help you understand the score for Wicked a little bit more. Tazber's: Reply to Is Stephen Schwartz a Practicing Christian
greatwhiteway72
Chorus Member
joined:8/20/08
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 04:13am
I'm going with family next week. There's no nudity, is there?
After Eight
Broadway Legend
joined:6/5/09
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 07:04am
^

Momentary, when Magnussen gets out of bed. We get to see that he puts on pants without underpants. A real class act, this guy. There's also simulated sex --- none too pleasant, I might add.

I wouldn't call this family fare.

I wouldn't call this theatregoer fare, either!

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haterobics
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/14
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 07:15am
And if I'm not going with family and like male nudity, which side of the house should I sit on?
WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel Profile Photo
WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel
Broadway Legend
joined:5/26/05
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 07:38am
I think any seat in the house will give you a good view of his ass. There are several sex scenes, but one does have Gunn getting taken from behind, so fair warning if that would offend someone in your family. (Both events are brief and I don't think you should be worried.)

As far as credibility of the affair- there's plenty of it in the text and performances. She's a smart woman, but she's also lonely and extremely insecure. This hot hunky guy comes along and charms her? It wouldn't take much convincing for me to get into bed with him.

BroadwayDevil- I guess there was a meta quality to the play when it "sold out" and became more conventional mirroring Olivia's book deal, but I think it was totally unintentional!

Marie: Don't be in such a hurry about that pretty little chippy in Frisco. Tony: Eh, she's a no chip!
After Eight
Broadway Legend
joined:6/5/09
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 07:45am
"It wouldn't take much convincing for me to get into bed with him. "

Thanks for sharing that illuminating information.

You're not the character of Olivia, however.
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WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel
Broadway Legend
joined:5/26/05
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 07:53am
No I'm not, but it's easy to see what her chief motivation is.

Also, he is opening doors for her in the publishing world. She's partially using him to further her career.
Marie: Don't be in such a hurry about that pretty little chippy in Frisco. Tony: Eh, she's a no chip!
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broadwaydevil
Broadway Legend
joined:2/16/11
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 08:03am
Whizzer, I don't think it was intentional at all. I was just using that as an observation to suggest perhaps that's why Eason thought the play demanded a fully fleshed out love story that doesn't entirely work.

I think After Eight is right to an extent, which is why I had a problem with it. It makes complete sense why Olivia has sex with him - she's lonely, she's in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, he offers something, and it's exciting. It even makes sense that she tries to make something happen in Chicago, but the fact that their relationship keeps developing is where I get lost. The two are so different and can so clearly not be together for so long that everyone seems to know it except for the characters.
Scratch and claw for every day you're worth! Make them drag you screaming from life, keep dreaming You'll live forever here on earth.
WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel Profile Photo
WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel
Broadway Legend
joined:5/26/05
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/9/14 at 08:26am
Yes, we know the relationship is probably not going to work out, but she has to stay with him long enough to secure the deal with agent and then the publishing company.

SLIGHT SPOILER

That's why he asked her at the end, "How much of it was about me?" I don't think she had any intentions of using him when things started out, but she became addicted to the allure of power and money just like he did with his books and movie deal.

I think they found each other interesting, even if they weren't compatible, the sex was good and they were using each other to further their careers.

Marie: Don't be in such a hurry about that pretty little chippy in Frisco. Tony: Eh, she's a no chip!
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haterobics
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/14
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/13/14 at 05:08pm
I had a very enjoyable time at this show today, and liked every aspect of it. Any Whizzer recommendation coupled with an After Eight pan is usually enough to justify attending...
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JayG 2
Stand-by
joined:12/19/12
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/13/14 at 06:38pm
Liked act one a lot. Although he can be charming, you still feel that Ethan is a "dick," as Olivia calls him. And I was totally sold on his charm at end if act one. Act two disappoints. Ethan suddenly feels like a different character and only a week has gone by. Also, her problem with him and and his treatment if women is not dealt with sufficiently. Shouldn't that be the crux of the second act, not whether she gets published or not.
That said, the performances are excellent. And it has a very funny, interesting first act.
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WiCkEDrOcKS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/13/04
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/13/14 at 07:36pm
It's a shame you didn't like it, After Eight. Because it definitely seems like you could benefit some sex with...well anyone.
Current Avatar: Tony-winner Idina Menzel, delivering a sucker-punch of an 11:00 number, "Always Starting Over," in IF/THEN.
Updated On: 7/13/14 at 07:36 PM
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haterobics
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/14
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/13/14 at 10:46pm
"Ethan suddenly feels like a different character and only a week has gone by."

I didn't find the character different at the beginning of act two, but there is a huge time jump in act two, and he did seem different after that.

Here's what I remember about the time jump:

SPOILERS

In act one, he has to go to L.A. to prevent some actor he doesn't want cast in the movie of his book. In act two, the movie didn't perform well at the box office, and she didn't see it.

She is single in act one, but has a boyfriend and is talking marriage and kids with her boyfriend in act two.

They republish her first book in act one, but between acts the book took off, and there was even press about her connection to Ethan Strange, etc.

END SPOILERS

I don't know if they specifically said how long had taken place between scenes, but it had to be at least a year, I'd guess, if the timeline between casting, shooting, and releasing a movie has to occur in between them somewhere.



Updated On: 7/14/14 at 10:46 PM
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Patash
Broadway Legend
joined:5/27/08
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/24/14 at 08:18am
Saw it yesterday and was spellbound from beginning to end. I found it a wonderfully written play with superbly written dialogue and very intereting characters. It's not often a two hander can hold an audience from beginning to end the way this one did. These were performances by two really excellent actors who had great chemistry together.

I thought one of the most interesting moments was late in the play when she tells him about her new boyfriend and their plans for a baby. "I know that's nothing you were interested in" she says, and Ethan looks like he has been slapped across the face. Did they ever discuss this, or was their relationship so shallow she merely assumed he wouldn't?

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AndrewAndrew
Stand-by
joined:11/20/12
Sex With Strangers Previews
Posted: 7/31/14 at 11:39am
Review of “Sex with Strangers” with Anna Gunn and Billy Magnussen
Review of “Sex with Strangers”