Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sex with Strangers—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“Strangers in the Night…”

This two-character drama is written by Laura Eason and directed by Brandon Woolley.  It is playing at their space, in the Ellyn Bye, at 128 NW 11th Ave., through November 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

This may not be as nostalgic as the above song but it certainly has the ring of truth about it.  I just recently reviewed a show on a similar subject at defunct theatre, even with the same enigmatic ending.  It also is about exploring who we really are, who are our partners and how a relationship should proceed.  Much of this “new awakenings” is due to the Internet and the Social Media, assuming that whatever you find on them is “God’s Truth” which, I’m sure we all know, isn’t the case.  But it does provide interesting topics for discussion.

At first glance this might seem to be something a film from the mid-Century might consider, with Doris Day or Cary Grant (except for the language).  But stories and relationships are never that simple anymore.  And, once “Pandora’s Box” is opened, it may be impossible to ignore what comes tumbling out.  Also, be careful not to judge too harshly, because the mirror can then be turned toward you, too.

It’s a cold, wintry night at an out-of-the-way Inn, with a writer, Olivia (Danielle Slavick), curled up with a good book and a glass of wine, only to be disturbed by a insistent pounding on the door.  It seems that another writer, a stranger, Ethan (Christopher M. Smith), is also to be a guest here so that he, too, can get some writing done, in solitude, on his screenplay.

They can get no Internet because of the storm and there is no television, so they must rely on communicating with each other in the old-fashioned-way, of just sitting down, in person, and chatting.  Ethan is highly charged and very aggressive in his demeanor, while Olivia is more subdued.  He admits that he is an overnight wonder in writing a semi-porn book called, “Sex with Strangers,” about a single man on the prowl.  She, it seems, is a more “serious” writer and has written a novel, which he has read, and considers brilliant.

It seems they have things in common and, with one thing leading to another, they end up having sex.  She has another novel in the offering but is afraid to have it published, as she doesn’t deal with criticism well.  But he has an agent and is launching an Internet App which will promote new authors.  Needless to say, an alliance of sorts is formed, although she is suspicious of his motives.  Their relationship has some ups and downs and, as the story progresses, hidden secrets are exposed which threatens their union.  Can’t tell you more without spoiling discoveries, but I can say, “what goes up, must come down,” and leave it at that.

Who we really are is a complex subject, because we are part and parcel of what we’re born with, how we are raised, and who and what we come in contact with through our lives.  Another dilemma is how much of this information do you want to share with others.  We always seem to be testing each other, searching for common elements either in a friendship or a mate.  It’s not an easy row to hoe.  I’m still convinced that one-on-one, personal contact with another is the best way to discover who they (and you) are.  Body language and intuition are also important ways to connect with someone and…”the beat goes on.”

Woolley has done a good job of always keep things moving onstage, both verbally and physically, still leaving an element of imagination to fill in the blanks.  Also, he has chosen his cast well, as they both fit the characters they portray to a tee.  Slavick is outstanding as the seemingly more reticent Olivia, wanting to believe in herself, and love, but not quite being able to let go.  Smith is a great match for her, as the seemingly self-assured macho male who also has a vulnerable side.  Neither seems to be fully comfortable in their own skins and, oddly, they need each other to evolve.  They are both so good you  do believe they really are in real life, who they enact onstage.  The set (designer, Tony Cisek), too, especially Act One, looks like something you could walk into and be enveloped by it.

I recommend this show but, be aware that, as always, parking in the Pearl District on the weekends is a challenge.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.