Sex With Strangers

Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan; Paige Price as Olivia in 'Sex With Strangers'
Michael Kingsbaker as Ethan; Paige Price as Olivia in 'Sex With Strangers'

Can you judge an author by his or her books?

Should you go Kindle Direct Publishing or hold out hope for Farrar Straus Giroux to come your way?

I’m urging you to book a night to head down to Curious Theatre Company, 1080 Acoma St., and check out “Sex With Strangers” through Feb. 20. You can get in for about $18 and sit upstairs in this amazing theatre space. (Hey, upstairs is closer to the wine bar anyway.)

Don’t let the title mislead you. This is a PG-13 presentation—a bit of skin and some groping on stage. But it’s all in the name of a play about publishing, writing, identity, fame, fortune, selling out, managing reputations and that special tug of war between high art and crass commercialization.

It’s a simple set-up but playwright Laura Eason (“House of Cards” to her credit and much more) wrings every possible nuance from the odd coupling in a remote Michigan bed and breakfast.

In some ways the play is PAL vs iPAL, to put it in RMFW terms. And it’s also about what the two can do for each other.

In one corner, we have blogger-writer-screenplay guy Ethan who has (quite literally) spilled himself all over the Internet. He wrote a blog called “Sex With Strangers” that was started on a bet. It is titillating and tawdry and it has left more tawdriness in its wake. The blog became a book, then two, and a movie is now in the works. Cash is raining down on a guy who admits he’s a bit of jerk in public. It’s a role, you know. It’s not really him.

In the other corner, we have a reclusive, thoughtful, obscure, under-the-radar writer Olivia, author of meaningful fiction who is happy writing in solitude and, she believes, perfectly fine with her status. Her first book fizzled, in part because of a so-wrong “chick lit” cover. “The people who would have liked it didn’t buy it because of what they thought it was,” she laments. “And the people who did buy it hated it, because it wasn’t what they expected.”

Ethan is all Kindle and e-books—a fast-writing man on the move.

Olivia is all leather-bound classics and the smell of an old book. She’s caution and contemplation.

First, mud flies between these two—and then sparks.

Laugh lines are piled high, but so are some razor sharp observations about different attitudes toward publishing, marketing and ownership of art, particularly when he steals her latest manuscript to give it a read. She’s incensed at this brazen break in trust but gets over it when he begins developing ideas for how to re-launch her career by rebranding her first novel, which sank without a trace.

There are a couple of implausible moments in the plot, especially the lightning-quick response from New York agents and publishers, but it’s all in the name of a good story. There was no funnier moment to me than Olivia’s reaction when Ethan recites a line from her long-ago, “forgotten” novel. What’s more seductive than that kind of intense adoration?

We writers know. Absolutely nothing.

The set is terrific, the acting is stellar. Don’t miss “Sex With Strangers.” Well, you know what I mean.

Amazing set at The Curious Theatre Co. For 'Sex With Strangers'
Amazing set at The Curious Theatre Co. For 'Sex With Strangers'
Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is 2016 RMFW Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series--Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011), Trapline (2014) and Lake of Fire (2015). Buried by the Roan, Trapline and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award; Trapline won. Trapline also won the 2015 award in genre fiction from the Colorado Authors League. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire "irresistible." More about Mark on his website.

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