Westport Playhouse stages love stories from two different ages
Love has fascinated humans for centuries. From modern dating with the help of the Internet to ancient love stories fueled by feuds, romance has long been of interest of playwrights, performers and audience members alike.
This fall, the Westport Country Playhouse will be exploring love in its full scope.
From Sept. 26 to Oct. 14, it will present “Sex With Strangers,” a drama exploring love in the digital age written by Laura Eason, the screenwriter of Netflix’s “House of Cards.” Then, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 13, the playhouse’s artistic director, Mark Lamos, will spearhead a classic performance of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Lamos, an experienced Shakespeare director, said the similarities in the two shows — one exploring modern love and the other revisiting a classic love story — is a “happy coincidence.”
“We knew we were going to do ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” he said. “We were all really crazy about ‘Sex with Strangers.’ It’s interesting. We have this very up-to-date love story and then you have this ancient love story of these two extraordinary teenagers who transcend evil and violence around them to find love.”
“Sex with Strangers” looks at love in the digital age through a blossoming relationship between 20-something Ethan and 30-something Olivia. Ethan is a blogger turned author who writes about having sex with strangers. Olivia, on the other hand, is a struggling novelist who has virtually no presence online and doesn’t know about Ethan’s Internet persona.
“That’s the crux of the issue with Ethan,” Director Katherine M. Carter said. “When Olivia meets Ethan, Olivia only has what’s in front of her to go on. He’s up front with her, but she doesn’t have any firsthand experience.”
See the shows
For more information about the Westport Country Playhouse and its 2017 season, visit westportplayhouse.org/2017-season
Carter said Olivia is shocked when she finds Ethan’s online work, begging the questions of whether what’s posted on social media is the truth and if a person can change from who they were several years earlier.
“For me, the conversation of evolution as we grow is really exciting and very important,” Carter said. “I love that Laura (Eason) takes two very specific moments in times and examines how two people, where they are in their world and how they’re meeting, changes the path they were on. What I think Laura’s done really well is Ethan has such a strong foot in his past. She’s given him so much baggage. He has a struggle to evolve beyond the person he was to the person he wants to be and Olivia is evolving from where she is now to the next phase of her career.”
After audiences fall for Ethan and Olivia, they’ll have the opportunity to fall back in love with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, the playhouse’s artistic director said.
“Every time I’ve done (‘Romeo and Juliet’) or even ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ one of the real highs for me is seeing young people watch it and seeing parents bring their kids to them,” Lamos said. “The emotional impact is so great. Even if they know the story, it just packs such a wallop and you’re so in love with these two kids who are extraordinary human beings. Everyone think it’s two teenagers — where teenagers are boring — but this is about two extraordinary souls who fall in love when they look in each others’ eyes.”
While it’s not uncommon to see directors taking liberty with Shakespeare’s sparse set and costume directions to update classic tales, Lamos said this performance will be a period piece. Despite toying with the idea of producing a hip-hop version of the show and having produced updated Shakespeare plays in the past, he said it felt more authentic to stick with the original period.
“I think an audience kind of wants to go into this world of beauty, violence, swords and boys behaving badly, which you rarely see anymore because most productions now are updating plays,” he said.