1. REVIEW: Sex with Strangers @ Steppenwolf Theater

    This is my review and analysis of “Sex with Strangers" by Laura Eason at the Steppenwolf Theater on Halsted in Chicago. It’s running from Jan 20 - May 15 2011.

    As the play ended, I turned and complained. Even though I enjoyed it, I was frustrated that the characters didn’t have chemistry. While they jumped into bed (or onto the couch) right after they met, there seemed to be a wall of self-consciousness between them from the beginning to the end. I was also annoyed at what initially seemed like a romantic ending, with her standing at the door longing for him, the audience wondering if they would reunite for a more mature run at a relationship.

    But, the more I thought about the play, the more I realized that for me, the lack of chemistry and the trite ending were the point. They weren’t just strangers when they had sex at the beginning, they were strangers in the last scene too. Their connection existed to satisfy their narcissistic self-absorbtion. He defined himself by his ability to convince other people to think he was magical, and he freely admitted to his no-holds-barred approach . She defined herself by her deep yearning for wild success and her inability to confront the possibility of non-acceptance (think back to the scene where she admits to wishing that her work was found and published posthumously to rave reviews).

    They gave each other what they wanted. He created a new game to play, replacing his punk-fratboy persona with an equally contrived tortured-writer-with-glasses act. But the basic game was the same - he put on the show to prove that he had the power to make people do what he wanted. She received the adulation from him (both directly and indirectly via the blog and publishing contract) that soothed her all-consuming desire to be liked. Their connection was codependent, not romantic. The chemistry should have felt a little self-conscious. That’s a huge part of the story.

    On reflection, the final scene is my favorite. Her fiancé’s dry cleaning hangs on the door to ostensibly remind us that she has moved on. But, I think the real message of the dry cleaning is quite different. It helps us notice that despite the new facade (she wore her trendy new green dress, and he had a sensible “thinker” outfit on with simple shoes, delicate glasses, and a cleaned up outfit), the core was still the same. You can’t simply put on a new outfit, attitude, or relationship and change the core of who you are. He was still a manipulative narcissist, using his intelligence and integrity-gap to crowbar her feelings into his control. He replaced his pick-up-lines with a manuscript, but the mechanics were just the same. She was still consumed by her pride and insecurity, willing to submit to him if he could satisfy her desire to be renowned. As long as she’d give him power, he was happy to manipulate.

    The play ends exactly as it begins. On the surface there appears to have been much change, but we’re right back where we started. He bursts in uninvited, and proves once again that he can get what he wants. Whether she comes to the bar or not is somewhat irrelevant. She kissed him, and that was enough.

    Perhaps the truth really was online. When he anonymously commented on her blog about her “narcissism”, the irony of his honesty defined them both.

    If you want to see the play for $20, call 312-335-1650 at 11am (1pm on Sundays) when the box office opens for same day tickets. They reserve 20 of these tickets for each show, and it’s a big discount off of the $60 face value. Our seats were decent - in row L on the far left side.

Notes

  1. seandevine posted this