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Theatre Aspen’s ‘Sex with Strangers’ is a love story for the social media age

July 6, 2017

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The first line in the play "Sex with Strangers" is: "Who are you?"

This eternal and existential question has gotten yet more complicated in the digital age, when who you are online may not be who you are in the real world. "Sex with Strangers," which begins previews at Theatre Aspen today, is a contemporary love story that digs into the knotty issues of identity and intimacy at this moment in history when love or sex or fame might be a click or a right-swipe away.

"I like how this play makes us think," director Christy Montour-Larson said. "How do blogs and social-networking sites impact our capacity for intimacy? What are the implications of knowing the private life of someone else, before you meet them, if they might become an intimate partner?"

Set at a remote writer's retreat, the smart comedy digs into these questions by throwing a 20-something sex blogger in bed with a 40-ish novelist. He's mastered the Internet and found fame with salacious posts detailing his conquests. She's published a novel but gone unnoticed by the masses.

"I love it because it's a play for today," said Montour-Larson, who also directed the play's regional premiere at the Curious Theatre in Denver last year (a production starring former Theatre Aspen artistic director Paige Price). "It makes us look at the generation gap between those that learned technology and those that are born with it."

Written by Colorado native Laura Eason — a staff writer on Netflix's "House of Cards" — the play aims to be both funny and sexy, while provoking audiences to think about the way we live now.

The Aspen production stars Patrick Ball as Ethan, who has crafted an online persona as a sort of scumbag Lothario who sleeps with women based on a bet that he could bed a different girl every week. He's found Tucker Max-styled publishing fame and infamy. Yet, he wants the kind of literary respect that Olivia, played by Jessica Robblee, commands in her work, and he wonders if he can reinvent himself with all of that baggage online.

"He comes across as sexy, with some bravado and swagger and charm, because that's the online persona he has created," Montour-Larson said. "But we're all more complicated than our Facebook profile."

Olivia, meanwhile, wants to harness the power of the web as Ethan has. He'll teach her but, of course, things get steamy along the way. As Montour-Larson put it: "Almost every scene ends with the stage direction, 'They kiss passionately, clothes come off, sex is imminent.'"

atravers@aspentimes.com