Laura Eason is figuring out how to portray sex onstage. Her play is called Sex with Strangers, after all. But in its previous productions at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2009 and 2011 and at Australia’s Sydney Theatre Company in 2012, the sex was shielded by a change in lighting or the actors’ timely exit. Now, for the play’s New York premiere at Second Stage Theatre, where it runs July 8–Aug. 24, Eason’s stage direction, “Sex is imminent between the characters,” might be more than implied in transitions, thanks to willing and talented actors Anna Gunn and Billy Magnussen and director David Schwimmer, Eason’s longtime artistic collaborator and fellow company member at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company. “I knew that Schwimmer was a director I really trusted with actors to go to that more vulnerable place, and I also knew he and I could talk really comfortably about it,” Eason says of the possibly steamier staging. Other changes have been made as well for the Off-Broadway production, which centers on a callow sex-blogger and aspiring novelist who seeks out his favorite writer, a woman 11 years his senior, at a writers’ retreat. Technology, the ever-changing medium, and the ways social media connect and divide us all play their parts in the story, and although Eason added an iPad and plotlines relating to online publishing—both phenomena that have developed since the play’s Chicago premiere—she says the gadgets are not the focus of the piece. “If it was about the technology, the play would have had its one production and that would have been it,” she argues. “Let’s hope it’s speaking to something more timeless than what generation iPad we’re using.”
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