Things are heating up at the Loft Theatre in HRTC’s latest production, though Sex With Strangers is about more than just sex.
Olivia is a middle aged novel writer who zealously guards her work - and her heart - from the outside world. After finding lackluster success with her first book, Olivia retreats to an isolated bed and breakfast where she hopes to silence the voices of inadequacy and self-doubt that have plagued much of her adult life and finish her long-awaited second novel.
Enter Ethan, a mysterious young stranger with a dark past. We quickly learn that Ethan is a blogger turned bestselling author who has achieved fame by cataloguing his exploits of sex with strangers. His books are being turned into a film and Ethan travels to the inn, hoping to finish his screenplay.
What ensues is a passionate affair in which Olivia is reawakened to new possibilities after being desired - body and mind - and Ethan is confronted with the consequences of his cavalier actions, past and present.
Sex With Strangers is about more than just sex. While the passionate interludes of Olivia and Ethan will certainly spice up date night for many audience members, most will remember this show for its honest exploration of the jealousies, disappointments, and exhilarations that come with love relationships. Middle aged women will likely identify with Olivia and her struggle to find her life’s purpose and meaning and almost everyone will appreciate the underlying theme of how technology is a force for good - and evil - in everyday life.
Jennifer Johansen as Olivia and Ben Palacios as Ethan give stellar performances. Regular attendees to HRTC productions may recognize the pair from their appearance together in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Their chemistry is sizzling and Johansen and Palacios convincingly portray the awkwardness of new love and the familiarity of an ongoing relationship with equal conviction.
Other stars of this production are the set design by Eric Moore and the lighting design by John Rensel. Both elements work in concert to evoke a powerful sense of intimacy and to draw the audience fully into the scene.
Bravo to HRTC for continuing to bring original, edgy works to the Dayton theatre community and to Director Greg Hellems for his commitment to providing a safe place for actors to experience intimacy on stage. Those attending this play should be sure to read his Director’s Note in the program about the efforts of HRTC and Wright State University alumnus Alicia Rodis to address and eliminate sexual harassment in the theatre community.
So is Olivia the next in a long line of conquests? Or is she the one that will capture Ethan’s heart? Find out now through February 18 as HRTC presents Sex with Strangers. For tickets, visit humanracetheatre.org or call 937-228-3630.
Amy Dallis is a Dayton native with a passion for Emily Dickinson, Impressionist art, great books, British TV and artisan coffee.