SEX WITH STRANGERS - McCadden Place Theatre

Reviewed by Chris Cassone

Touted as one of the most produced plays of the decade, Red Jasper Entertainment's production of Sex with Strangers was unknown to this reviewer, and just as well. Yes, it was a New York Times Critic Pick. Yes, its author, Linda Eason, was responsible for some of the best writing on screen with  House of Cards. And yes, while its title titillates, ultimately it is a love story embedded in our digital age. But this play had me completely in its grip, from the moment crass and confident Ethan enters the writers' retreat in northern Michigan in search of a key player for his new venture.

            If a play had pages to turn, I would be turning them as fast as the rapid-fire dialogue could stand. It turns out, there are many layers to the meaning of the title. On the face of it, Ethan has made one-night stands and victorious bedding of unknown women an art form. He blogs about each one. So popular is his persona, they line up wanting to be next - next in bed and next on social media.

            As much as Olivia, the struggling but virtuous unpublished author, resists him, it takes all of fifteen minutes to get her up on the table (what's with sex on tables anyway? Gotta hurt.) Ethan's sexual exploits become a self-fulfilling prophesy as women line up to be ravaged and exposed online. And he totally believes that his role as an influencer absolves him from all of his crimes. King pulls off the big con.

          Cleverly, Eason uses the device of the snowstorm to "turn off" the internet so there is no double checking on each other. It totally works. And, voila, deus ex machina turns on the Internet just when they need it.

          The set by Sarah Wylie did much to put the focus on the action. The earth tone palette was comfortable and I never found my eyes wandering. At some plays, when that lull happens, I start trying to read the book titles on the shelves. Not so here. Presented as a "bed and breakfast" (we might think of an air b'n'b now) both sets were strictly functional.

          Yes, the focus was on the action and the two actors did a wonderful job in the Kabuki sex dance we knew was coming. Hey, it's all in the title. Sarah Wylie's Olivia was just vulnerable enough to allow the pushy Ethan, played by the masterful Jonathan Dylan King, to get his way. He swaggers around the stage, so confident in his role of attracting the female that he is quite shocked when she delays the inevitable. If there was anything annoying it would be his over-grimacing. Someone should tell him that he has classic lines in his face that sometimes, along with his delivery, are enough. In fact, it is hard to take your eyes off either of them.

          When the stakes get higher and both start acting selfishly, that is when the Eason's dialogue shines. These two spar with the best of them. Ultimately, they both betray the other's trust and that results in the best acting of the night as they both realize what they lost, and for what? Some likes on social media or a better bargaining position with a publisher?

            Jonathan Dylan King's Ethan was confident without being cocky, self-assured without being prideful and attractive in his wife-beater even though his belt has notches on it. We wanted to believe him.  Sarah Wylie's Olivia was tender without being blithe, alluring without dropping her guard and, in the final analysis, still in command of her world. 

A note for the actors: it was very difficult to hear and understand some of the dialogue. Actors must understand that they are not miked up. Acting 101: Project for your audience.

The McCadden Theater is smaller and more intimate than most of the black box theaters, with only fifty seats. Book your seats now as the writing is on the wall for this smart production, directed by Kate Sargeant. It is sure to sell out.

Sex with Stranger s runs through March 3. Fri/Sat at 8pm; Sunday at 4pm.

Purchase online at

McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood, 90038.

Posted By DH Magazine on March 01, 2024 02:45 pm | Permalink