The Evanston Duo Behind the New Steppenwolf Play “Sex with Strangers”

Evanston natives Laura Eason and Jessica Thebus aren’t shy when it comes to talking about what goes on under the sheets.

Eason and Thebus are the brains behind the new Steppenwolf play, “Sex with Strangers.”

Eason wrote the play, which focuses on a 24-year-old male blogger who writes about his “sexcapades,” including his affair with a 30-something female writer. Thebus directs the dramedy, which premieres January 20.

We caught up with the two Carrie-Bradshaws-of-theater to talk about their new play and their North Shore connections.

MIB: You two aren’t just artistic partners. You’re best friends. Tell us how you met.

Laura: Jessica and I went to junior high together, but we didn’t meet there. We became friends when we were 13. We were both taking classes at the Piven Theatre Workshop. We crossed paths again in the ‘90s in grad school at Northwestern. Jessica had done this really beautiful piece about Richard Nickel, the building preservationist who saved all of the Louis Sullivan architecture and died in a building collapse. I had the hubris to say, “It was really great, but if we worked on it together, it could be better.” We ended up putting on the play at Lookinglass in 2001. Since then, we’ve worked on 5 projects together.

MIB: Where did you get the inspiration to write about the world of sex and blogging?

Laura: I started coming across a lot of articles about people blogging about their sex lives. I was also inspired by the whole James Frey incident. I found myself asking questions like, “What is true? What is our public self? What’s our private self?”

Reading about these bloggers horrified me—all of your personal stuff is online forever! I came up with the character of a guy, Ethan, who blogs about his sex life. And then I wondered what would happen if he met a woman from an older generation. Olivia is 38. She came of age before the Internet. Many younger people expose everything online, but that idea is completely foreign to those who are a bit older.

Jessica:
Technology is fascinating to explore. Since the play was written, technology has totally changed. Now there’s the iPad. We had to make it part of the play.

MIB:
Do you think people abuse technology?

Laura: The play doesn’t make a judgment. It criticizes technology at times, but for Olivia, technology gives her a second chance. We explore both sides, as good plays should.

Jessica:
Technology is risky. We have one character who thinks he can handle technology, but it slips out of his control. Another character finds technology offers everything she ever wanted. It’s a risk-benefit analysis.

MIB:
What do you hope people will talk about after they’ve seen the play?

Jessica:
It’s a funny, sexy play. I think people will talk about some of the couple’s arguments—who was right? Who was wrong?

Laura:
The play raises questions and is provocative, but it’s also entertaining. It’s not just “issuey.” I think people will talk about technology but they’ll also talk about love and identity.

“Sex with Strangers” plays Jan. 20—May 15 in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, at 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets cost between $20 and $73. Tickets can be purchased at steppenwolf.org or by calling 312-335-1650.