‘Sex With Strangers’ extremely gratifying, but not how you think

Even though it would seem like Cleveland Play House could be presenting something extremely risqué with its provokingly titled “Sex With Strangers” (SWS), the tantalizing tale playing now through Nov. 13 in the Outcalt Theatre is not all about showing salacious scenes.

Written by Laura Eason and directed by Joanie Schultz, SWS is a two-person “thinker” with enticing attitude. Repressed novelist Olivia is staying at a remote Bed and Breakfast when her quiet solitude is interrupted by a sarcastic, loud, and cocky celebrity blogger named Ethan.

Monette Magrath (Olivia) and Sean Hudock (Ethan). Photo credit Roger Mastroianni3.jpg
Sean Hudock as Ethan

With no television and no internet, Ethan’s only entertainment is to poke and prod into Olivia’s life. A private person, Olivia wants none of it. But as the evening progresses, the iPad-meets-Microsoft 97 personalities peel into each other’s psyches and then peel off each other’s clothes.

Spoiler alert: there is no full nudity in this show. Although we do find out that Ethan is famous for his blog-turned-book called “Sex With Strangers,” there isn’t a parade of endless merrymaking. So what is this provocative play about?

Monette Magrath (Olivia) Photo credit Roger Mastroianni.jpg
Monette Magrath as Olivia

The piece asks: who are we in real life? Is the “image” that we show to the public via an online presence or an agent or a character part of a “real” personality? Or is it all for show? Are we a brand? Or something else? Or is there a blend of everything in our souls?

As the characters struggle to find out who they are, they question both themselves and each other. Each grows substantially from the beginning to the end of the play, with very definite transitions of “being.” As they get to know each other, they get to know themselves.

The Cleveland Play HouseSex with Strangers
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
Monette Magrath as Olivia and Sean Hudock as Ethan

The 28-year-old Ethan enters the play as a rich, macho, dangerously charming flirt who turns more inward as the play progresses. While the almost-40 Olivia begins more inhibited and uncertain, and then finds herself drawn into a place of security and self-assurance.

They are complete opposites in personality, yet drawn to each other like magnets. There is an undeniable fire between them that stays lit. Whether Ethan and Olivia are talking, fighting, tearing each others’ clothes off, or being quiet in despair, it’s there smoldering. It is electric and heart-wrenching… and so very real.

The Cleveland Play HouseSex with Strangers
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
Monette Magrath as Olivia and Sean Hudock as Ethan

Sean Hudock is a hot force of nature as Ethan. He brings a great swagger of confidence to the character, and manages to make Ethan’s smart ass attitude charming and enormously delightful.

Monette Magrath is a beautifully layered Olivia. She has a stillness that emits power, and a lovely rawness to her portrayal of a spirit that is deep and searching. The character is intensely intelligent, yet utterly vulnerable.

The play is a mish-mash of pacing, with witty language and through-provoking moments. Although not for kids, “Sex With Strangers” is not as raunchy as the title implies, and runs 2 hours and 15 minutes with some “strong language and implied sexual situations.”

The Design Team includes Chelsea M. Warren (Scenic Designer), Whitney Locher (Costume Designer), Michael Boll (Lighting Designer), Thomas Dixon (Sound Designer). The Stage Manager for this production is Jennifer Caster.

Sex With Strangers” runs through November 13, 2016 in the Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square. Tickets range in price from $25-$90 each. To order single tickets please call 216-241-6000 or visit clevelandplayhouse.comGroups of 10+ save up to 40% off single ticket prices; call 216-400-7027.
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