SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City’s current arts craze is the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival. In its second year, this impressive festival features one week of consistent theatre with 52 short plays. With all plays running under 90 minutes, it is a wonderful opportunity to see multiple shows back to back or throughout the day, and indulge in the quality theatre that the Utah arts community has to offer. Various theatre companies and groups have gathered from all over the state, as well as a couple from out of state, to participate in the festival. The fringe has offerings for everyone, with varying subjects, themes, and content. Conveniently located in the heart of Sugarhouse and reasonably priced, the fringe festival is an exciting event that is proof our arts community here in Utah is alive and thriving. I would encourage all of my fellow Utahns to experience this event and support the artists that keep our arts community strong. One of the shows I was able to see was Sex With Strangers.
Produced by Silver Summit Theatre Company and directed by David K. Hanson, Laura Eason’s short play is brilliantly brought to life on stage. While Olivia (played by Michele Rideout), a middle aged author and teacher, is on retreat at a secluded cabin she is joined by a much younger stranger, Ethan (CJ Strong). Olivia and Ethan are both attempting to finish up their respective writing projects, but their plans are altered when the chemistry between them becomes too much to handle.
Rideout and Strong display this chemistry so convincingly that I was taken by their relationship immediately. It is clear that they are both skilled actors, but their greatest strength in this piece was playing off of each other to emphasize the connection between them. Strong, utterly charming in this role, played his sexual, intelligent, and ego-maniac persona in such depth that his character is fascinating. This nicely contrasted Rideout’s more grounded, mature, and timid depiction of Olivia. I was impressed how in the short amount of time these actors had to present their story, they were able to expertly develop and represent characters of such complexity. Because of the believable nature these actors had created, I became completely engaged in their story. I wanted to keep discovering these characters and it was easy to feel empathy for them.
By the end of the play, the dynamic of the character’s opposing personalities had shifted slightly, and the audience sees these multi-dimensional characters alter their personalities and desires, just as real humans do over the course of time. These performers presented ideas about the past and whether people can change and leave behind parts of who they once were. The play also asks the audience to examine the futures, and how they might alter themselves in order to achieve fame, success, or money. Are our distinct personality traits rooted within us, or are they ever fluctuating?
The play also takes a thoughtful and charming look at relationships, examining how people make mistakes and form lasting connections. Sex With Strangers is funny, endearing, and real; I would highly recommend it. However, audience members should be aware that strong language and adult themes make this show unsuitable for children.