Monday, September 28, 2015

reviews - SEX WITH STRANGERS - Stray Cat Theatre / Arizona Theatre Company

Tyler Eglen and Heather Lee Harper
photo by John Groseclose
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

 Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 11th.

"In a play where one of the themes explored is identities, it’s perfectly appropriate that the first line of dialog should be “Who are you?”...Sex with Strangers is a two person, two act comedy/drama.  The first half is a largely humorous account of the meeting of two writers from two different generations,.  The second half shifts location and develops into a more confrontational affair; the humor gives way to drama....Even though the intentionally provocative title suggests one thing, the play is really about something else, though it certainly has its share of explicit moments befitting the boundary pushing content of a Stray Cat production as Olivia succumbs to Ethan’s seductive manner...Writer Eason has a talent for plotting and a keen ear for good dialog.  ...Eric Beeck’s...set is an effective and highly detailed design ...As lit by Paul Black..both set and lighting nicely illustrate the difference in tone and atmosphere of Ethan and Olivia’s relationship.  ...director Ron May is among the most consistently interesting talents in the valley, and with Sex with Strangers he pulls two outstanding performances from his players.  With his over-confidant, cock-sure manner, Ethan should be a character we dislike, yet Tyler Eglen fleshes something that makes the man likeably appealing to the point where we ultimately feel sympathy for the character.  True, a lot of that is due to Eason’s writing, but it’s Eglen under May’s direction that makes him real.  As Olivia, Heather Lee Harper has the kind of sexual magnetic draw that attracts us as much as it would a character like Ethan, and it’s the difference between these two characters that unintentionally highlights the difference between audiences watching the production.  A younger, edgier crowd who subscribe to Stray Cat may easier relate to a guy like Ethan, while a traditional Herberger Center audience would naturally lean towards the more mature Olivia.  When seen from this angle, May’s production of Sex with Strangers presented at the Herberger could not have been a more perfect setting.  And it’s a hugely entertaining play." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"Laura Eason's play Sex with Strangers tells an interesting story about ambition and the need for praise and recognition set in the modern, somewhat ambiguous, world of technology. It is also an intriguing story of what happens when two strangers, with very different backgrounds, meet and end up basically helping (or is it using?) each other, though in very different ways. This is the first show in Stray Cat Theatre's 2015 season and also an interesting "meeting" of sorts, since it is Stray Cat's first co-production with the Arizona Theatre Company. Like the play, this partnership proves to be a very successful collaboration.  ...But Sex with Strangers isn't just about sex and how opposites attract, it is about two people who want to prove that they are someone other than what they are perceived as, and how they both believe that what they are currently working on will prove that. While the play could be tightened up a bit, with a few scenes running a bit too long, Eason has created realistic characters while also providing plenty of twists and intrigue throughout. The play also makes us change our minds several times on just who is using whom. Director Ron May has assembled a stellar cast and gifted creative partners, all delivering top-notch work. Under May's subtle direction, Heather Lee Harper and Tyler Eglen create realistic individuals, full of nuance. They also generate plenty of heat as a couple. Harper may appear at first to come off the best, since the part of Olivia is more the "victim" of the piece, which makes us immediately take her side and root for her success. But Eglen is just as good, especially in the second act, in showing the wounds he has, and his need to prove himself. Harper is exceptional at playing this wounded woman...Eglen has the right balance in portraying the arrogant but sincere Ethan. He is loud, rude, and forceful, yet full of charisma. Eglen makes us want to believe that Ethan truly wants to help Olivia, ...It's a tough part to play, yet Eglen succeeds...Creative elements are superb, with Eric Beeck's exceptional set design..Paul Black's lighting combines... to create appropriately shadowy nighttime scenes..while Danny Chihuahua's costumes are character appropriate and smart in showing the age difference between the two,...Pete Bish's sound design includes some excellent effects...Full of witty dialogue, Eason's play is a love affair about writing and two people who love to write, while also tackling the topics of public personas verses private identities, intimacy, and ultimately discovering how to prove who you truly are. Stray Cat Theatre's production features honest portrayals of these realistic individuals, clear, precise direction and exceptional creative elements. While it could be tightened up a bit, Sex with Strangers is never predictable, always interesting, and a great first partnership for two of the best theatre companies in Phoenix that tackle and present challenging new works."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"In a dashingly funny co-production between Stray Cat Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company they stage the adult farce, “Sex With Strangers,” with droll sparkle....filled with witty comedic dialogue as it explores a one-time sexual encounter between a pair of authors as they sprinkle today’s sexual mores into their very different lives and novels. ...not profound or deep but when it’s delivered by a pair of engaging performers they humorously milk every amusing nuance out of the script. ...Stray Cat Theatre Artistic Director Ron May stages the play with quick paced lunacy that works well.  May has two expert performers with superb comic timing who add mischievous malarkey to the situation.
Heather Lee Harper is a frazzled Olivia who worries about everything.  She needs to relax and let life happen rather than anticipating and planning for every occurrence.  Tyler Eglen’s Ethan is a swinger who takes advantage of every opportunity to get what he wants.  The pair is very different and, when we initially meet them, it is hard to ever conceive them getting together.  “Sex With Strangers” is a funny play about contemporary relationships and what causes people to link up.  It is sharply performed by an excellent cast.  --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"Written by Laura Eason, “Sex With Strangers.. a smart, provocative take on the current cultural moment, jolted to life by the athletic acting of a talented two-person cast.  Director Ron May...keeps this supercharged drama about sex, art and commerce in the digital age bursting with tension, both sexual and otherwise. (Heather Lee) Harper and (Tyler) Eglen’s chemistry is so intense you can almost smell the pheromones, but they also create compellingly nuanced characters whose motivations aren’t always clear even to themselves. The conflict here isn’t just about sex, gender and power. It’s also a clash between generations....Without question, part of this play’s appeal is its sexually charged fireworks. And even though all the bom-chicka-wow-wow takes place in the darkness between scenes, Harper and Eglen certainly get in a fair amount of spirited groping. But “Strangers” also leaves theatergoers with a lot to discuss on the way home, particularly about the construction of public identities, an issue that once only affected actual celebrities but is now something everyone with a Facebook account needs to think about. Even though Eason’s plot occasionally verges on soap opera, her interrogation of the always-online zeitgeist is focused and convincing (sometimes disturbingly so). This is one of those plays that says, “This is how we live now,” underlining both the revolutionary and the atavistic — what’s new and what never seems to change." - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"...SEX WITH STRANGERS..is a profoundly provocative work, rich in word play and dramatic twists, and steaming with relevance. In a collaborative arrangement with Arizona Theatre Company, Stray Cat Theatre...has scored a direct and palpable hit at the heart of her work. Brilliantly and incisively directed by Ron May, Stray Cat's Founding Artistic Director, the result is a riveting portrait of literary wannabees in a world where the smell and texture of the written page is being displaced by digitalization ~ where authenticity and fraudulence may be two sides of the same coin. His vision is fulfilled by the extraordinary and riveting performances of Heather Lee Harper and Tyler Eglen.
...Harper and Eglen are a dynamic duo of chemistry and tour de force artistry. As their relationship winds up and unwinds, as the dance of their aspiring selves uncoils, the two draw you deeper and deeper into the magic of their performances. Harper is magnetic, seamlessly shifting moods and unfolding the depth and nuances of her character. Eglen evokes an image of the feral predator, sinuously weaving in and around Olivia. May has been blessed, thanks to ATC, with a larger stage than he is used to, and he has made the best of it. Combine his astute direction with a magnificent cast and the authenticity of Eric Beeck's sets and you have the Valley of the Sun's first big hit of the Season. -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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