“Sex with Strangers,” a play about a 30-something woman dating a 24-year-old guy, is a libidinous, funny exploration of the Internet generation.
Written and directed by Evanston natives Laura Eason and Jessica Thebus, the play is a story of opposites attracting, and the allure of youth—perfect for younger adult audiences in particular.
Ethan, played by the adorable, baby-faced Stephen Louis Grush, is a brash, confident young writer whose blog about sleeping with a different stranger each week landed him a book deal, and then a movie. His costumes accentuate his age: hoodies, a leather jacket, a skull cap, halfway-laced Doc Martens. His back and chest are covered with tattoos. He frequently uses the F-word and, in the funnier scenes, often checks his iPhone while talking—much to Olivia’s chagrin.
Olivia, played by Steppenwolf ensemble member Sally Murphy, is also a writer, but couldn’t be more different; she’s introverted, neurotic and insecure. There’s a bird-like fragility in her voice and body. After critics dismissed her first novel, she’s afraid to share her second. Ethan convinces her to do it as a blog—even though she’s a technophobe. Though their chemistry is palpable, their online lives quickly start to redefine their connection.
On the surface, the play is very current, examining how the new generation is accustomed to putting their lives on display for all to see. But underneath, the show asks age-old questions about relationships—how much weight should be given to a person’s past? Aren’t relationships redemptive?
The play will also appeal to anyone in the creative arts, or anyone interested in them. Olivia’s hesitation with her manuscript recalls a time when there was a sacredness to creative work, before writers could promote themselves and find an audience on the Internet. Now, fame comes based on the opinions of the masses, not just a select few.
Like many of Steppenwolf’s plays, you’ll likely be mulling this one over long after the curtain call.
The play is 2 hours long, with a 10-minute intermission. (So, plenty of time for checking your smart phone!) “Sex with Strangers” plays through May 15. For tickets, call 312-335-1650 or visit steppenwolf.org.