Reviewed Performance 6/24/2017
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Stage West in Fort Worth brings to its boards the Regional Premier of Laura Eason's play, SEX WITH STRANGERS, which will run at the theatre through July 23. It is a smart production all around: smart script, smart actors, smart staging and smart settings for the unfolding of this modern day "two on a see saw". The result is that, as an audience member, you are made to feel very much a part of what is otherwise a very intimate, often tangled relationship between Olivia and Ethan who couple, and uncouple and recouple as their emotional and professional lives unfold.
This is a two person show, which places the responsibility for the progression of the action squarely on the two actors. And Dana Schultes as the conflicted and uptight Olivia and Jake Buchanan as the gung-ho Ethan are up to the task. Ms. Schultes begins appropriately quiet, stand-offish and reluctant to become involved with Ethan, played by Mr. Buchanan. The latter literally blows onto the stage full of energy and flirtatiousness and blunt charge-ahead confidence. Both actors have exquisite command of voice and face and move easily between the several juxtapositions their characters find themselves in during the two acts.
Recently retired Stage West Artistic Director and Co-Producer Jim Covault, directs this show. He expertly brings together all the elements in an engagingly produced and smartly staged performance during which the characters draw us into their lives. The physical theatre seems to produce some staging challenges as the window to the world of the actors is quite wide literally. This sometimes causes extreme stage left and right to be ignored and the action tends to bunch up stage center. Again, the very wide proscenium opening played into this.
This play offers up thought-provoking commentary on Ethan's upfront and sometimes in-your- face sexist attitudes that are frankly challenged by the woman with whom he has a physical, emotional, professional and financial involvement. And we are offered insight into Olivia's conflicted emotions and her search for professional confidence and independence. We are challenged to ask ourselves how much would we compromise our integrity to achieve financial and artistic success? Searching for those answers provides two hours well spent in the theatre.