Photo submitted by Douglas C. Liebig
ALBANY — Laura Eason’s “Sex with Strangers,” at Capital Repertory Theatre, Sept. 22 to Oct. 15, makes good on its steamy title between two writers, Ethan and Olivia, but the salacious title alone shouldn’t deter conservative audiences.
“Well, first thing you can say, Sex with Strangers derives from the book that Ethan wrote,” said lead actor Ben Williamson, who plays Ethan, hungry to work on his new novel, an antidote to his own catalog of low-brow blog posts turned best-sellers. “It should kind of intrigue you. Because, the play is about a relationship and the pursuit of what people want. How far are you going to get it? … Just because of the title, I don’t think it should pull people away. I would hope that it would pull people in.”
Williamson has played the role before, at American Stage in Florida, and brings a deep knowledge of the play to theREP. Williamson has also recently been onstage at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Asolo Repertory, Cider Mill Playhouse and Urbanite Theatre, as well as on HBO, Amazon Prime, USA and NBC.
The play does contain mature language and adult subject matter while exploring the serpentine ways people try to get ahead. It also touches upon the disruptive ways the internet affects our moral choices. It’s a torrid, tangled and bittersweet modern dramedy.
The story is set at an isolated Michigan bed and breakfast during a March snowstorm. Olivia, another author, is at work on a new novel as she battles through the elf-doubt she developed after a lackluster reception to her first book.
Olivia is played by Jenny Strassburg who returns to theREP after playing a similarly smart, strong and pretty woman in “Venus in Fur” in 2013.
“There’s a lot I can identify with in Olivia, in regard to my own struggle as an artist,” said Strassburg,” who’s been busy in the time between Albany visits, spending three years at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and trodding the boards as Lady Macbeth in New York Classical Theatre’s “Macbeth;” Stella in Virginia Stage’s “A Streetcar Named Desire;” and starring in the world premiere of “A Class Act” at New World Stages. “This is a very sexy, funny play,” she added. “The characters are wordsmiths, so they are always trying to challenge and top each other with language. There’s also a clash between Generation X and millennials at work, and the way we communicate now—with social media, selfies and self-promotion—taking a part.”
As Olivia works on her novel, she meets Ethan, a bright-eyed decade younger than she, who has more in mind when he arrives in Michigan than just small talk. Though Ethan initially pretends otherwise, he is quite familiar with Olivia’s work, fascinated even.
“After reading [Olivia’s] book, he has become completely enamored with her,” said Williamson, speaking of his character. “The kind of person that he is as an artist, as a writer, is who she is. So, the give and take from each other a lot.”
The pair are directed by Stephen Nachamie. Subscribers will remember his work with “4000 Miles” at theREP in 2015. Nachamie was associate director of the 2016 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of “She Loves Me” (which lands, in a new production, at theREP in November).
“Oh, she’s wonderful. She’s fantastic. She’s great,” said Williamson, on working with his co-star Strassburg. “I could not have asked for a better partner on this journey, and I think the world of her. She’s really fabulous, and a lot of fun. Really great person on and off the stage. I couldn’t be more happy to be in this play with her.”
Preview performances take place Sept. 22–24. Opening night is Tuesday, Sept. 26. Regular performances continue through Sunday, Oct. 15. Performance times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday—with matinees 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4. Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany. Tickets range from $20 to $55. Students with valid ID: $16 all shows. For tickets and information, call Tickets by Proctors, 518.445.SHOW (7469) or visit capitalrep.org.
Opening night includes live music in the café at 6:30 p.m., and complimentary post-show champagne and dessert from Bella Napoli Bakery. The Chef’s Table performance, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, includes pre-show music and complimentary hors d’oeuvres for ticketholders, from Hollow Bar + Kitchen, in the lobby, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Post show discussions with representatives from Sex with Strangers will follow performances on Wednesdays, Oct. 4 and 11.
The Sunday, Oct. 15 matinee is preceded by a Behind-the-Scenes event, which features complimentary light breakfast fare for ticketholders, from ShopRite Supermarkets, and discussion led by theREP’s Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. Food service begins at 12:30 p.m., with the presentation following from 1 to1:30 p.m.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.