Expectations are funny things. When we get what we want, it can be a let-down. When we get something else, well, the reaction is entirely dependent on how high those expectations were.
In Laura Eason’s “Sex With Strangers” the two characters struggle with expectations. And the audience might find something unexpected from a play with this title.
That’s the joy of Eason’s script, probably the reason it has been one of the most-produced plays in the country for several years now. It finally makes a North Texas debut courtesy of Stage West, in a fine production directed by Jim Covault.
In a Michigan bed and breakfast on a snowy spring break, novelist and writing professor Olivia (Dana Schultes) is holed up working on her second book, hoping it will be better received than her first, which had mixed reviews and didn’t sell well.
Enter Ethan (Jake Buchanan), a 20-something writer working on a screenplay for his bestselling book (and a follow-up) in which he wrote about the women he bedded — a new conquest weekly — over a year.
The title of that book? You guessed it: “Sex With Strangers.” Then, “More Sex With Strangers.”
She’s approaching 40; he’s about a decade younger. She has a minor form of imposter syndrome, always believing her worst critics. Egomaniac Ethan thinks Olivia is brilliant, and although he’s financially successful, fancies himself a real writer eager to shake the stigma of the books that put him on the map — and earned him zillions of Twitter followers.
No surprise that they end up in a sexual relationship that develops into something more, each with expectations that change over two years. Along the way, small surprises for the characters and the audience keep the action swift and entertaining.
Kevin Brown’s set design, for the B&B in the first act and Olivia’s Chicago apartment in the second, is detailed and fills the stage. Ryan D. Schaap’s costume design is spot-on — the idea of Ethan wearing the same torn jeans through most of the play says volumes about his capacity for change.
The chemistry between Schultes and Buchanan is always honest, as much to do with the smart writing by Eason (a writer for Netflix’s “House of Cards”) as the sharp performances from both actors. Under their care, and Covault’s direction, the surprises and twists seem genuine.
Whether what happens is expected, you’ll likely leave the theater satisfied from the experience. Might even need a cigarette.