Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. Wi-Fi. Trolling. It wasn’t long ago that these weren’t even words, let alone predominant forces governing our lives. In the blink of an eye we’ve gone from the kind of creatures who value privacy and intimacy to ones that are willing to “share” practically every detail of our day with anyone who has access to a computer. It’s the biggest social shift since the invention of the telephone or the automobile. We are evolving, but into what?
Sex With Strangers by Brooklyn-based playwright Laura Eason explores the ramifications that our online lives have for our real-world relationships. Olivia (Jacqueline Mckenzie) is a talented thirty-something writer who has stalled after her critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful first novel. She’s holed up during a blizzard at a rural Michigan Bamp;B trying to finish novel number two when in blows Ethan (Ryan Corr), a handsome mid-twenties blogger whose salacious “fratire” memoir of one-night stands with hundreds of women he picked up in bars has propelled him onto the New York Times bestseller list. In true rom-com style his gen-Y arrogance rubs up against her gen-X insecurity and bingo, here come the fireworks.
If it sounds a tad formulaic, that’s the problem, because it kind of is. While Mckenzie and Corr are delightful and give wonderful, naturalistic performances that are warm and endearing, there simply aren’t enough places for them to go emotionally with this. It’s a bit like the feeling you get when you’re watching a chick flick of the predictable Must Love Dogs variety. Sure, it’s enjoyable for a bit of Sunday afternoon viewing when you’re flopping about on the couch, but it’s not terribly deep or satisfying. It’s not going to challenge any of your preconceived ideas, instead it will reassuringly confirm them so you can feel better about what you already believed. This is not a production that’s boring, exactly, as the action is sustained; interest very rarely wanes, but it’s not theatre in the capital “T” sense. It’s not going to move you.
Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, a veteran of the Australian film industry, has been behind some of the best cinema ever made in this country. Proof (1991) starring Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving was a psychological masterpiece. Here, she handles her theatre debut with the utmost assurance, creating a visually fully-realised world that is immersing, thanks to the accomplished abilities of Mckenzie and the bright young talent of NIDA graduate Corr (of TV Packed To The Rafters fame).
Tracy Grant Lord’s set is charming. It brings the Michigan woodland indoors one minute then reveals a stylish library that looks straight out of design mag Wallpaper the next. The transitions are beautifully handled with projections by Matthew Marshall displaying quotes on love and writing by literary luminaries that run across the stage. And the hip musical interludes from sound designer Steve Francis keep the energy appropriately up.
Sex With Strangers is a sweet, funny and playful production, enjoyable but not terribly profound. In a sense, Laura Eason has achieved what she set out to, which was to create a play that “can speak to this moment, the one we are all living in right now”. A place where attention spans are short and 140 characters says it all.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
Sex With Strangers
by Laura Eason
Venue: Warf Theatres, Walsh Bay
Dates: 28 September – 24 November
This review first appeared on Australian Stage