Capital Repertory Theatre: 'Sex with Strangers' deals with contemporary issues

Don’t let the title fool you — play has ‘surprising’ depth

ALBANY, N.Y. — Jenny Strassburg is an actress who is not ready to fall into a niche. Her resume is filled with examples of her portraying strong, female characters. However, this week she returns to Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, N.Y., to play a character who is less than certain of herself.

Strassburg was last seen at Capital Repertory Theatre in 1993, playing the role of the dominating female Vanda in "Venus in Fur." A couple of weeks ago, she finished a run of "Macbeth" in New York City. She played Lady Macbeth.

Clearly, Strassburg is great at creating powerful women, but in her next adventure "Sex with Strangers," which begins previews at the Albany theater today, she plays Olivia, who has failed as a writer and is uncertain about the man with whom she is falling in love.

The play opens with Olivia at a writer's retreat in Michigan. She's alone, trapped by a snowstorm. Olivia is an intellectual who, for 15 years, has been mourning the failure of her first book, one that everyone called a brilliant novel. She has not tried to publish anything since.

Suddenly, almost mysteriously, another writer, a male about 10 years her junior, arrives. Ethan is a hotshot, crude writer whose first book "Sex with Strangers," is a chart-breaking best-seller. It was just optioned to become a major film. The book goes into detail how he won a bet that demands that for a year, he would pick up and seduce a new woman every week. His book details his experiences in lurid detail.

Ethan and Olivia are total opposites. She's a literate, failed writer and he's a crude novice who found success. He enjoys being a public figure and blogs about his numerous sexual conquests on social media. She hates the internet.

As the play develops, you realize each wants what the other has — and before long they have each other.

In a telephone interview, Strassburg was hesitant to speak too much of the twists and turns the play takes — except to say Olivia is curious how Ethan knows so much about her writing. She's also confused at how this caring man seems so different from the insensitive person in his blogs and book.

Strassburg refuses to accept Olivia as a weak person.

"She's very confident," she said. "She is positive that her book was good and failed because it did not reach its right audience. Olivia never questions her own talent and believes she will find her own place in the world."

Strassburg calls "Sex with Strangers" "a play that deals with contemporary issues in a very smart way. It asks a lot of questions about living in a digital world. Are we who we think we are, or can we go on the internet and reinvent ourselves, and actually become a different person? It questions the boundaries between what is private and public, and asks, do our experiences belong to ourselves?

She pauses and adds — "The play explores ambition. What are we willing to do to be or to stay a success? What are we willing to reveal about ourselves to succeed?" She makes the point that these modern conundrums makes "Sex with Strangers" a play with surprising depth — despite its shallow title.

Strassburg's career has taken off since she last played at Capital Rep. She's performed several roles at Alabama Shakespeare Repertory and New York Classical Theatre. She should be familiar to local audiences — she performed several times at Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vt., and at the Dorset Theatre Festival, in Dorset, Vt.

Strassburg feels few theater experiences match her time at Capital Rep. About that performance, she says,"If I could perform Vanda in `Venus in Fur' every day of my life, I would be a very happy person."


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions