If you were trying to devise a light comedy for overheated August audiences (and theaters closing out their subscription seasons) you might do worse than a two-hander with a clickbait title and a chilly setting.Perhaps you’d have the curtain rise on an inn in Michigan as a March snowstorm casts cool blue light on a woman drinking a big glass of red wine while ice drips loudly off the eaves outside.
He doesn’t have to work too hard to convince Olivia to have sex with him, so that question is answered very early in Act One.Ethan (Ben Williamson), whose blog Sex With Strangers has made him famous (or notorious), finds himself with Olivia (Carey Urban), whose first novel barely generated any interest, and who’s lost the taste for risking her reputation with a misunderstanding public.Ethan knows about Olivia: He’s read her published novel and thinks it magnificent, and he’s eager to discover her nearly finished new manuscript.You can feel the electricity of her awakening to Ethan’s offers of redemption: through sex, yes, but also through the internet. The fascinating question is: If he admits to being an asshole, is he no longer one? In the age of overshare, Eason seems to suggest, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between Twitter and psychopathology.Magnussen, who as Spike in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike got good practice embodying immodest boytoyism, has the opposite challenge with Ethan, making this unbridled, appetitive Peter Pan seem human enough to matter to the likes of Olivia. I wish the play could get to these nifty ideas through subtler mechanics; it’s the kind of story in which Olivia’s work must be accepted as brilliant for the plot to turn.
(Ethan’s success springs from two collections of misogynistic blog posts about women he’s slept with.) And though it doesn’t take long to perceive that the positions of the two characters, starting from opposite sides on all of these issues, will eventually cross in the middle, the actors, under Schwimmer’s sensitive direction, are convincing as people, not just platforms.