I’m a writer. That’s my profession. A production of “Sex With Strangers,” by Laura Eason, now playing in the LVLT Fischer Black Box, is right up my alley. It focuses on the relationship between two authors: the give and take; the fear of rejection and adulation; the fear of success and failure.
In the most recent issue of Poets & Writers magazine, poet Rita Banerjee expounds on the emotions and interpretations experienced by an audience thus: “The four major forms of acting that draw out and convey an emotion from a work include: gesture, speech, setting and costuming, and a character’s internal psychology.”
It’s that last one which is so all-important to creating a full, three-dimensional character. This is how an actor telegraphs believability and sucks in the audience. If an actor doesn’t internalize the emotions of a character, the audience doesn’t get fully drawn in.
For this production the stage is configured into a semi-thrust, with audience on two adjoining sides and director Sarah O’Connell uses it to advantage. The sets work well. Visually, it’s all good. She’s kept the pace moving, the play never sags. The timing and the rhythms of the dialogue are all perfectly executed.
But, a two-character play is tough to sustain. Actors must commit to the role from the gut, putting the full instrument to use. They must be willing to dig deep, find the soul, and freely share those emotions with the audience. That is how we get lost in the story, invested in them and their struggle.
Diana Osborn plays Olivia, a serious, talented, but unsuccessful novelist, without motivation. Her lines are well rehearsed, and delivered with good timing, but the emotions are all on the surface. She relies on words alone to carry her story. When Ethan (David Kurtz) intrudes on her at a writing retreat, she admits, “Yes, you’re being a dick,” but does nothing to make us believe it. We don’t see the underlying struggle as she jumps into the sex. The transitions from one emotion to the next are missing. Osborn uses only the dialogue after he “stole” her work, or when she believes Ethan has played her, and we don’t see the lack of trust as she gaily heads off with him.
The complete opposite, Kurtz is wholly relaxed and at ease. His Ethan is a wildly successful…sex blogger; a blogger turned into best-selling, creative non-fiction novelist he calls “the lowest kind of writer.” But he knows true talent. He wants what she has, and wants her. He’s the catalyst that moves the story arc, he’s the antagonist; he pushes and prods and invades her space. And Kurtz does it all very well. We can see how Olivia affects him as he moves from one tactic to the next in pursuit. When he believes she has used him, the hurt is there, underneath the outward anger. That is how Kurtz lets the audience understand his character, to feel what he’s feeling. In the final scene, multiple transitions take place for him in the span of minutes and he takes us on that ride.
For the most part Kim Glover’s costumes look good, if at times impractical. A thin tank top in the middle of a blizzard in rural Michigan seems a bit out of place. The only beef with props is the blank computer screen as Olivia types an email at the desk, and the use of a stage play as a fiction manuscript. Those details are picky. But, there are always people in an audience who will notice. And noticing pulls them right out of the scene.
Don’t allow my pickiness to steer you away, or fool you. I enjoyed the production. It’s still a satisfying look at a digital-age driven relationship where success, but not necessarily respect, is only a click away.
Editor's note: Director Sarah O'Connell is the Founding editor of EatMoreArtVegas.com
What: Sex With Strangers
When: 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through February 19
2 p.m. Saturday, December 10