Cleveland Play House’s of ‘Sex With Strangers’ shows how things go ‘bump in the night’


What is the secret in maintaining a long and loving relationship? If you were to ask a number of couples who have been together for 20 plus years you would find their answers quite similar. Number one on the list is trust followed very closely by fidelity, humor and appreciation. Far down the list is sex (and the older the relationship the farther down it is found). Making whoopee just does not stack up against good attributes and grooming.

In the Cleveland Play House production of Laura Eason’s Sex With Strangers we are witnessed to a relationship strong in physical intimacy but lacking in that crucial element of basic honesty.

The show begins with Olivia (Monette Magrath), an almost thirty something talented but obscure novelist who has retreated to a remote B&B in the wilds of Michigan. She is there to relax, refresh, read and re-evaluate (R & R & R & R). With the tepid response to her first novel due to the poor choice for the cover art and lackluster promotion from her publisher she has retreated from life as well, becoming a teacher instead of the sought after world renowned novelist she once dreamt of being. Although computer familiar, she is not aware of the growing power that social media has on people’s artistic choices concerning literature.

Late that evening, Ethan (Sean Hudock) arrives at the B&B having fought his way through blizzard conditions and icy roads. He is a week late in handing in a screen play and needs a place where he can work without distractions. Ethan’s claim to fame is his blog “Sex With Strangers” that was started on a dare. After boasting that he could pick up one girl a week from local bars and have sex with them he started the blog in order to document his exploits. It soon goes viral to the point that women are seeking him out to have sex in order to get their fifteen minutes of online fame. The result is two books since the “experiment” was continued for another year (both expose’s made the New York Times Best Seller List for nearly a year) and a movie offer (thus the screenplay assignment).

Ethan is like a little boy who is locked in a candy store. At first it is wonderful being able to sample all the varieties of sweet treats but soon he tires of this constant exposure to confection and wants something real in his life. After bedding over a hundred women in two years he is looking for a real relationship with someone who is his intellectual equal.

Having been alerted that his idol (Olivia) is staying at this particular B&B he sets forth plans to meet and seduce her. After an interval of verbal sparring Ethan lets on that he loved Olivia’s first book (having read it twice) and hopes she has written another (which she has). With no phone, internet or television suddenly their chemistry reacts and as implausible as it may sound they are soon lipped locked in a tongue wrestling match soon to be followed by a caged tournament of sexual gymnastics in the off stage bedroom (which thankfully the audience is not party to).

It soon becomes clear that Ethan has ulterior motives that include using Olivia’s new novel (without her knowledge) to launch his newest blog designed to introduce new authors and works to the public. There is also the question of his fidelity when Olivia eaves drops on a bragging phone call that Ethan makes to a friend. In spite of Ethan setting Olivia up with his agent and publisher the relationship crashes and burns only to be given a glimmer of life during the closing scene.

As for the production, it is excellent with both characters being aptly portrayed as real breathing human beings. Even the kissing scenes are authentic (due to a lot of rehearsing). The set design is amazing as it is transformed into a well appointed B&B into an upscale downtown apartment. Stay during the intermission to witness this amazing changeover. Joanie Schultz does a fine turn as director helping the actors find their voice.

The play contains quite a bit of explicit and implied sexuality with some language.

Although seemingly implausible on paper (young stud beds late thirty year old within minutes of their meeting) it is the manner in which the action is portrayed that brings credence to the story. What at first looks like a romantic romp turns instead into a moral tale of burning issues as to what makes for a successful truly meaningful relationship that will stand the test of time. It is a good yarn for those who have been together “forever.”

The Design Team for Sex With Strangers includes: Chelsea M. Warren (Scenic Designer,) Whitney Locher (Costume Designer), Michael Boll (Lighting Designer), Thomas Dixon (Sound Designer). The Stage Manager for this production is Jennifer Caster.

The Cleveland Play House production of Sex With Strangers will run through November 13, 2016. Prices for tickets range $35 to $90 and may be ordered by calling (216) 241-6000 or online at www.clevelandplayhouse.com. There is a group discount for parties of ten or more by calling (216) 400-7027.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.