By: Curious Theatre Company On: February 19, 2016 In: Curious & Curiouser Blog Comments: 0

Sex With Strangers actors Michael Kingsbaker and Paige Price have an incredible chemistry. People have been saying that about their on-stage chemistry for weeks now, but spending time with them off-stage confirms that notion. No, they’re not just great actors (although their performances on the Curious stage have been moving, thought-provoking, and side-splittingly funny) – these two genuinely like each other. As they sit down to discuss Sex With Strangers, they also tease each other about the Sex With Strangers Playlists they made one another (using iTunes and Spotify, no old-school mix-tapes for these busy actors). They joke together, often having side-bar conversations to share funny stories or common experiences. If one is having trouble coming up with the right word, the other provides it. Often when asking Paige a question, she spent more time complimenting her co-star than talking about herself, and vice versa. It’s no wonder that the relationship that they cultivate on stage comes off as so easy and authentic.

“I have to try really hard not to like him in the first scene, because I think he’s hilarious”, Price says of Kingsbaker’s portrayal of Ethan Kane: “His humor is observational, it’s smart, it’s funny, it’s sharp, so it’s hard not to just laugh at him.”

In discussing Sex With Strangers, the theme of public-self and private-self came up frequently. When asked about Ethan Kane’s alter ego, Ethan Strange, Kingsbaker said that he understood the idea of having multiple selves that only certain people get to see at certain times. In discussing Ethan Strange’s damning phone call, where he says, among other things, “Give her the D, let her choke on that”, Kingsbaker does not think that Ethan’s entire character should hinge on those remarks, or that his time with Olivia is lessened because of it. He says, “Any guy who’s hung out with a group of guys understands it to some degree. My mom could always tell when I was on the phone with a certain group of people in high school because my voice would change talking to them. You put on different faces for different people.”

Price recalls a similar experience, saying that she was a cheerleader who was friends with the stoners, and she really fit in with a diverse array of people. In regards to Olivia’s character, who does not seem to be as clearly divided as Ethan’s, Price says that one’s personality becomes “more layered as you get older.” Kingsbaker adds, “We all carry around whatever degree of shame that builds up over a lifetime. Have you ever broken someone’s heart? Have you ever said something that you shouldn’t have? Have you ever hurt someone who was kind to you? For a lot of us it’s not on record, but you carry that and we all display it differently with different people.”

But for Ethan Strange, his shame is on record. The character Ethan Strange is inspired by Tucker Max, a blogger turned best-selling author who spent most of law school partying, having sex, and writing about it in his “memoirs”. For the record, Kingsbaker and director Christy Montour-Larson both agree that the Curious version of Ethan Kane is not directly informed by Tucker Max. However, in order to get a feel for the type work that he might have been producing, Kingsbaker picked up a copy of Tucker’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and would read excerpts at rehearsal.

The excerpts from I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Max’s other works range in activities from drunk driving, objectionable interactions with women, intoxicated partying with friends, and most other destructive behaviors you can think of. For Price, having this reference point was helpful: “I had no trouble pulling up the Act II emotions, and getting really angry with Ethan. Personally I’m as upset with the women who think it’s glamorous to be with him as I am with him.” Having the clear reference made the transition from likable to loathe-able much easier.

The emotional shifts within Ethan and Olivia’s relationships are frequent, with each character taking power at different points in the play. When asked about these power dynamics, Kingsbaker and Price both thought that the transitions in power were vital for both Ethan and Olivia to learn something about themselves and about each other. Kingsbaker notes, “At first, Ethan has the power because he’s the one who can publish Olivia’s book on the internet, and he’s the one who can get her an agent. Now all of a sudden that agent introduces her to FSG and it’s like, ‘Whoa, she never introduced me to FSG!’ I mean Ethan writes different things so it’s not really the right audience but still, all of a sudden Olivia is the one who takes the power. And I think the biggest lesson that Ethan learned is how giving up that power, or giving up that front that everything is great and I’m great, led him to be able to connect with people on a real level. The book he writes at the end of the play is described as beautiful and haunting, and I don’t think he could have written those words if he didn’t learn to be vulnerable with Olivia – if he didn’t open himself up to being truly hurt.”

Price says, “I could personally relate to Olivia. In my house, the way I was raised, ambition was not polite. My parents always told me to stay humble and not to get ‘too big for your britches’, so for me being ambitious was always distasteful. But for Olivia this was borderline her last chance, so she learns how to face her ambition and Ethan helps her do that.”

While that process may have been difficult for Olivia, facing her fears made her a more relatable character. Price notes, “You’re never really in control, and the more in control you are, the less interesting you are.” Kingsbaker goes on, “The need for vulnerability is important because that’s when true human connection happens. People don’t relate to success when you’re on top, they relate to when hard things happen. I got my heart broken. I lost my job. People really connect and understand at that level what that feels like. I think that’s what Ethan needed to learn. And I think, what being an actor is. Acting is vulnerability.”

Watching Sex With Strangers on the Curious stage is such a treat because we get to witness so many stages of a relationship unfold before our eyes, from being perfect strangers, to being completely vulnerable.

Thank you to all involved for an incredible run of Sex With Strangers. We’ll see you at our next production: Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue.