March 21, 2017

Sex With Strangers at the Kitchen Theater

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It is only appropriate that playwright Laura Eason chooses to reflect on the millennial obsession and consumption of authentic selfhood through psychological realism, a form that exposes private and supposedly authentic humanness. Literally walled off in a remote house and then, during act two, in an apartment, actors Leeanne Hutchison and Darian Dauchan strive to imitate authentic privacy through theatre. Their characters, Olivia and Ethan, aspire to achieve this by writing fiction, and, both character and actor, inevitably by social media. So the play dialogues inwards, towards a generation where pressure to authentically be (and perform) one’s self is supreme, monetized and burns through relationships. Sex With Strangers’ political effect is potent but undecided, and ultimately, like its form, a dialogue in itself.

The play taps into a burgeoning line of new millennial-centered theatre, delving into tropes underrepresented on stage, yet responsive to every 20 year old in America. Ethan, a young, far too successful social media sensation/novelist slowly brings Olivia, an unknown mid-career novelist, into the public eye and pseudo-fame. Soon, their contrasting career paths both end up cornered by the forces of Twitter and the like.

Grappling with the same questions of ambition, selfhood and technology, I found myself indulging in what great actors often induce — subconsciously hoping for one character’s success and then shame for backing their flaws, and then questioning that shame and then getting turned on because actor Darian Dauchan is a heartthrob. All this to say that while Dauchan’s tight shirt are sure to make the many older women and gay men swoon, by and about millennials, Sex With Strangers plays in a world that the Kitchen’s opening night audience must absorb divergent from Eason’s intentions.

The Kitchen counters with intergenerational artistic direction headed by Lampert and abetted by last year’s Kitchen artistic fellow Melyssa Hall. Textually, Olivia’s unthinkable out-and-out technological isolation opposes Ethan’s, well, normal city life. Hutchison doubles down. She indulges in quirks, stutters and eye rolls that border on character acting, but again, contrasted with Ethan’s macho city swagger.

The spectacle of opposites plays throughout, most fun for the audience through Dauchan’s tight shirts and forward pelvis versus Hutchison’s arched shoulders and modest sweaters. These character contradictions create a satiable trope for older upstate audiences to access the play, however, Eason’s thematic brawn withers in this context.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the $36 price of tickets would be discouraging to student audiences. However, there are $15 student rush tickets available for all performances.

Sam Morrison is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]