Don’t pass on Signature Theatre’s ‘Sex with Strangers’

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Don’t pass on Signature Theatre’s ‘Sex with Strangers’
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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Theresa Wood)

“Sex with Strangers” may be one of the best comedy/dramas I’ve seen this year — an engaging yet challenging, hilarious yet deliciously sexy, stylishly clever and utterly modern relationship conundrum performed by a pair of actors completely in tune with each other.

Playwright Laura Eason’s snappy, sexually charged repartee will be familiar to those who have seen the series “House of Cards” on Netflix. The veteran dramatist took part in writing seasons two and three, and Signature Theatre takes advantage of her talent with its production of her work.

Ethan, a successful young author, arrives at a secluded writer’s retreat in the midst of a blizzard. There he meets Olivia, a 40-ish writer working on a new novel after her debut book went nowhere fast.

But Ethan already has scoped out Olivia’s work after a mutual friend told him she was staying there. Is he there to work on his novel or is it just a ruse to publish hers?

Along with Olivia, we are in a constant state of bemusement, and any attempts to untangle the plot will prove fruitless.

Four-time Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford plays the technology-challenged Olivia, while Luigi Sottile plays Ethan, a bestselling author of sensationalist books that owe their success more to Internet marketing techniques than talent.

“Critics say they’re lower than fortune cookies,” he confesses, explaining how his books evolved from being blog posts about weekly flings with strangers.

Still she’s intrigued by him, his knowledge of the wonders of self-publishing and his familiarity with the instantaneous allure of technology. Instead of rejecting this Lothario, she’s eager to learn about his development of an app to publish books online.

Though his history of debauchery comes up, it is a mere bump along the road in their romance and only seems to fuel her excitement about his plan to re-issue her novel as an e-book — under an assumed name.

Tantalized by the prospects of finally giving her book its proper due, Ethan meets her at her Chicago apartment with an iPad pre-loaded with a few of her favorite books.

“It smells like the future,” she exclaims.

But later, when snubbing his e-book suggestion after an opportunity to sign with prestigious New York publishers comes up, she grouses, “I want a real book.”

Three-time Helen Hayes Award-winning director Aaron Posner keeps the action — and comedic timing — swirling as fast and furiously as the snow outside the set’s window panes which, thanks to Andrew Cissna’s clever lighting design, reflect the increasing wildness of the storm outside and in.

“Sex with Strangers” runs through December 7 at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA 22206. For tickets and information call 703-820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

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