Theater review: ‘Sex With Strangers’ not very titillating


“Sex With Strangers”

Grade: C+

Through May 1. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. Also: 11 a.m. April 28. No 3 p.m. show April 30. The May 1 show will be at 8 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. $25-$45. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-584-7450,

Bottom line: Technology play more tired than creepy.

Exactly who is this stranger who comes knocking at the door of a Lake Michigan bed-and-breakfast on a cold, dark night?

Is he earnest in his devotion to Olivia, the slightly older novelist who answers the door and whose work he professes to adore?

More crucially, would this sex blogger and author of two trashy, best-selling books make for good boyfriend material — or is he just a well-chiseled hunk of T-R-O-U-B-L-E?

You’ll have to tune into Laura Eason’s play “Sex With Strangers” at Horizon Theatre to find out.

But I’ll give you a hint: If the super-confident Ethan (Michael Shenefelt) were as noble in his pursuit of Olivia (Megan Hayes) as he insists, this randy thriller about the dangers of double identities wouldn’t be nearly titillating enough to hold our attention for two hours.

Not that it does.

True, we live in a time when it is not uncommon to put private information in the public sphere of social media. And while such behavior can prove costly, what happens here is not all that compelling.

In the name of selling books and creating a brand, Ethan has constructed a personality he claims straddles a line between truth and fiction. Insecure and washed up, Olivia is the author of one unevenly received, out-of-print novel. She is shyly clutching her second effort to her chest when this lucre-dripping Lothario crashes into her world, and promises to rescue her from obscurity.

Each covets what the other has: Ethan wants Olivia’s talent, she his commercial success. To paraphrase that old Pet Shop Boys tune: “You’ve got the brains. I’ve got the looks. Let’s make lots of money.”

Through no fault of their own, Shenefelt, a new-to-Atlanta actor, and Hayes, a hometown girl who has enjoyed some Hollywood success, can’t elevate this shallow, superficial story into anything more than the clunker it is.

Perhaps both are too likable.

Hayes is a wonderful actress whose natural gift for comedy gets rather knotted up in the complicated Olivia. While Shenefelt’s Ethan manages to be both sleazy and irresistible at the same time, I’m not sure I buy Hayes as the charismatic Olivia. (Is it possible that this is a woman pushing 40?)

After having its world premiere at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in 2011 and an off-Broadway run in 2014, Eason's play has garnered some attention, in no small part because she is on the writing staff of HBO's "House of Cards."

But technology changes at warp speed, and what might have seemed exciting and lurid a few years ago already feels dated to me. And director Jeff Adler’s production strikes me as as more safe and flaccid than dark and edgy.

“Sex With Strangers” is a tease of a title. But in the end, it’s not much of a turn-on.