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Sex with Strangers – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 20, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

SEX WITH STRANGERS at Signature Theatre


On the off chance you might not read this review all the way through and that perhaps you’ll skim through to get to the meat of the matter – – the rating! – – I’ll give it to you in the first paragraph.  Sex with Strangers may be one of the best comedy/dramas I’ve seen this year – an engaging, challenging, hilarious, deliciously sexy, stylishly clever, utterly modern relationship conundrum performed by a pair of actors utterly in tune with each other.  Playwright Laura Eason’s snappy, sexually charged repartee will be familiar to those who have seen Netflix’s House of Cards where she was part of the writing team of season two and three.

If you’ve read this far, here’s the set up.  Ethan, a successful young writer, arrives at a secluded writer’s retreat in the midst of a blizzard where he encounters Olivia, a 40-ish writer working on a new novel after her first book went nowhere fast.  He has already scoped out Olivia’s work through a mutual friend who 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 decoct the plot will prove fruitless.

Holly Twyford (Olivia) and Luigi Sottile (Ethan) -  Photo by Theresa Wood.

Holly Twyford (Olivia) and Luigi Sottile (Ethan) – Photo by Theresa Wood.

Four-time Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford plays the tech-challenged Olivia, and Luigi Sottile plays Ethan, a New York Times bestselling author of sensationalist books that owe their success more to internet marketing techniques than whatever talent he might have.  “Critics say they’re lower than fortune cookies,” he confesses, explaining how the books evolved from his blogs about weekly hook ups 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 to 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, he meets her at her Chicago apartment with an IPad pre-loaded with some of her favorite books. “It smells like the future!” she exclaims.  Later, snubbing his e-book suggestion when 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 inside too.  Enhancing the ambiance, Set Designer JD Madsen captures the writer’s world with the room’s sidewalls created from the textblocks of hundreds of books, and designing a parquet floor suggestive of different book shapes.

Highly recommended.

Through December 7th 2014 at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit

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