Pages flip and clothes fall in Laura Eason’s modern dramedy Sex with Strangers

Steamy, funny play about aspiring authors makes regional debut at Capital Repertory Theatre

Olivia is snuggled down—well, actually she’s hunkered down—at an isolated Michigan bed and breakfast. March snow blows outside, and she works, word by word, on a new novel, trying to silence the doubts that howl in her head from the disappointing reception for her brilliant debut.

A knock sounds at the door. What the … ? Enter Ethan, a bright-eyed decade younger, hungry to work on his new novel, an antidote to his own catalog of low-brow blog posts turned best-sellers.

Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers, at Capital Repertory Theatre, Sept. 22–Oct. 15, makes good on its steamy title while exploring the serpentine ways we try to get ahead; and the disruptive ways the internet affects our moral choices. A modern dramedy, Sex with Strangers, is torrid, tangled and bittersweet.

Jenny Strassburg returns to theREP to play Olivia—smart, strong and pretty, and wise enough to suss out Ethan while satisfying her own curiosity. Strassburg played a different, but similarly remarkable woman in Venus in Fur at theREP in 2013.

“There’s a lot I can identify with in Olivia, in regard to my own struggle as an artist,” says Strassburg,” who’s been busy in the time between Albany visits, spending three years at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and trodding the boards as Lady Macbeth in New York Classical Theatre’s Macbeth; Stella in Virginia Stage’s A Streetcar Named Desire; and starring in the world premiere of A Class Act at New World Stages.

“This is a very sexy, funny play. The characters are wordsmiths, so they are always trying to challenge and top each other with language. There’s also a clash between Generation X and millennials at work, and the way we communicate now—with social media, selfies and self-promotion—taking a part.”

She is joined on stage by Ben Williamson as Ethan, who has more in mind when he arrives in Michigan than just small talk. Though Ethan initially pretends otherwise, he is quite familiar with Olivia’s work, fascinated even.

Williamson has played the role before, at American Stage in Florida, and brings a deep knowledge of the play to theREP. Williamson has also recently been onstage at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Asolo Repertory, Cider Mill Playhouse and Urbanite Theatre, as well as on HBO, Amazon Prime, USA and NBC.

The pair are directed by Stephen Nachamie. Subscribers will remember his sure, even-handed work with 4000 Miles at theREP in 2015. Nachamie was associate director of the 2016 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of She Loves Me (which lands, in a new production, at theREP in November).

Nachamie, who began his career, while still in high school, as a production assistant on the original Broadway run of Little Shop of Horrors, has worked extensively regionally and in New York, with highlights including an August production of Small Town Confessions with Alice Ripley, Daisy Eagan, Sally Mayes and Sharon McNight at the Broadway Bound Festival; Buyer And Cellar, My Name Is Asher Lev, Becoming Dr. Ruth and Rounding Third at Penguin Rep; The Whipping Man at Omaha Playhouse; and Hello Out There for Goodspeed New Musicals Festival.

“I’m so excited to be back at theREP,” Strassburg says. “I had the most amazing experience with Venus in Fur. I love the fact that it feels like family here, and I love the way theREP engages its audience with smart material. It feels like my artistic home.”

Nachamie’s production team includes Scenic Designer Tony Panfili (who is also theREP’s technical director), Sound Designer Scott Stauffer, Costume Designer Vanessa Leuck (who paired, along with Stauffer, with the director on 4000 Miles) and Lighting/Projection Designer Rob Denton.

Preview performances for Sex with Strangers take place Sept. 22–24. Opening night is Tuesday, Sept. 26. Regular performances continue through Sunday, Oct. 15. Performance times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday—with matinees 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4. Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany. Tickets range from $20 to $55. Students with valid ID: $16 all shows. For tickets and information, call Tickets by Proctors, 518.445.SHOW (7469) or visit capitalrep.org.

Contains mature language and adult subject matter.

Opening night includes live music in the café at 6:30 p.m., and complimentary post-show champagne and dessert from Bella Napoli Bakery. The Chef's Table performance, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, includes pre-show music and complimentary hors d'oeuvres for ticketholders, from Hollow Bar + Kitchen, in the lobby, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Post show discussions with representatives from Sex with Strangers will follow performances on Wednesdays, Oct. 4 and 11.

The Sunday, Oct. 15 matinee is preceded by a Behind-the-Scenes event, which features complimentary light breakfast fare for ticketholders, from ShopRite Supermarkets, and discussion led by theREP’s Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. Food service begins at 12:30 p.m., with the presentation following from 1–1:30 p.m.

Sex with Strangers is part of the 2017–2018 Bank of America Season at Capital Repertory Theatre, and is sub-sponsored by Overit and Sentron Associates.

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