Sunday, March 26

Theater Review: Phoenix Theatre: Sex with Strangers

*Written by guest reviewer John Simmons*

Despite its provocative title, playwright Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers isn’t really about sex,although it does start out that way. The play, at Phoenix Theatre, Indianapolis, through April 9, begins in an out-of-the way B&B that serves as a safe haven for writers.

Here we meet 30- (or is it 40?) something Olivia, whose been badly bruised by the public’s reception of her first novel. Olivia’s world is suddenly upended by the sudden appearance of the much younger − and far-too-sexy – Ethan. Turns out that Ethan is an internet sensation whose online memoir, blog and soon-to-be movie, Sex with Strangers, document his singular accomplishment of having sex with at least one new woman per week for a year. He’s also a huge fan of Olivia’s first novel and (after taking a sneak peek) her unpublished second one.

With the heavy snowfall outside robbing Olivia and Ethan of the internet and access to the outside world, what else is there for them to do – except begin bonking one another just minutes into Act I? It isn’t revealing too much to say that supremely tech-savvy Ethan helps Olivia self- publish an online version of her new novel, while Olivia uses her far more limited social media skills to learn about Ethan’s sordid past ... all with unintended consequences.

The Phoenix Theatre’s production of the two-person show
features some nice performances by real-life couple Angela R. Plank as Olivia and Brandon Alstott as Ethan, but there’s a certain subtext that’s missing.

Alstott draws a convincing portrait of a young man who seems genuinely smitten, is willing to put his sexually overactive past behind him and wants to be taking seriously as a writer. But should we really believe Ethan can move on from all the money, women and fame that keep coming his way? Plank does a nice job showing us Olivia’s fears in getting involved with Ethan and having her new work rejected. But there’s also the suggestion that quietly ambitious Olivia questions Ethan’s commitment because, having benefited from his help in achieving a success she only dreamed of, Erotic Ethan is no longer good enough for her.

Sex with Strangers is more than just the story of a woman who cannot move beyond the toxic bad boy in her life. Strangers is about the lies we tell others in relationships and about the lies we tell ourselves – about ourselves – to justify our own bad behavior. By adding this extra layer of ambiguity – by ‘muddying the waters’ just a bit – Phoenix’s production of Sex with Strangers would move from being a good production to a great one.

Images: Zach Rosing

John Simmons recently moved back to his hometown of Indianapolis from New York City, where he stage managed or produced numerous off-Broadway shows. John was also General Manager of The Active Theater.

Elizabeth J. Musgrave writes two magazine food and wine columns: Destination Dining and White Linen & Corks,and is a travel, features, food and wine writer, travel and food photographer, and performing arts and restaurant critic. Catch her as the Travel & Leisure Adviser on FOX59 Morning News Show. She also is a speaker, consultant and trainer for hospitality, travel and luxury businesses, P.R., and tourism groups, as well as a radio and television guest and host. Follow her on Twitter @GottaGo, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Tuesday, March 21

Theater Review: TOTS: Rock of Ages

*Written by guest reviewer, John Simmons:

If you know anything about Rock of Ages, now playing at Theatre on the Square, Indianapolis, then you know that it is by no means a typical musical. In fact, its razor-thin story line merely serves as the backdrop for an over-the-top, absurdly raunchy celebration (falling somewhere between a tribute and a parody) of the excesses of classic 80's Rock 'n' Roll musicians.
What little story there is centers on Drew (Davey Pelsue), an aspiring rocker who works as a bus boy at Sunset Strip's Bourbon Club, and Sherrie (Sarah Hoffman), a small town Midwestern girl who’s come to Hollywood to make it big in the movies.
Throw in club owners, with a secret yet-to-be-revealed, Lonny (John Kern) and Dennis (Dave Ruark), fading rock star and sometime sex addict, Stacee Jaxx (Thomas Cardwell), and two German developers, Hertz (Bryan D. Padgett) and his sexually ambiguous son, Franz (Zach Ramsey) who are intent on buying, and tearing down, the club. Also include city planner Regina (Andrea Heiden) who is vehemently opposed to any remodeling of the Sunset Strip, and Madam Justice (Paige Scott) and the working girls (Jordan Fox, Tessa Gibbons and Katherine Jones) of the Venus Strip Club. The storyline – sometimes artfully, sometimes awfully – weaves in the music of such 80's giants as Journey, Pat Benatar and REO Speedwagon, (among others) to tell its tale.
The stunning renditions of Harden My Heart/Shadows of the Night and Here I Go Again ending Act I – just as Drew is about to give up his dream of becoming a rock star and join a boy band and Sherrie sees no future for herself beyond joining the working girls at Venus as a stripper – are well worth your time. So is the lovely, all-cast rendition of that quintessential 80’s love song Every Rose Has Its Thorn.
If high camp is more to your liking, you’ll enjoy over-the-top performances (and sudden surprises) of Hit Me with Your Best Shot and Can’t Fight This Feeling. Ages’ stirring finale, Don’t Stop Believin’ – in which cast me­mbers break the fourth wall and invite audience members to join them onstage as part of the celebration – will certainly have you on your feet.
Like the 80's rock scene itself, TOTS' Rock of Ages is heavy on the raunch. It’s rough and raggedy, with enough poop jokes, double entendres and simulated sex acts to offend almost everyone, while making you howl with laughter. The show makes no pretenses at being a work of art but, whatever your mood is going in and for however briefly, it will take you away from your problems and have you singing along/dancing in the aisles … and there is a lot to be said for that.

Images: provided by TOTS

John Simmons recently moved back to his hometown of Indianapolis from New York City, where he stage managed or produced numerous off-Broadway shows. John was also General Manager of The Active Theater. Active Theater alumni who have gone on to bigger and better things include Grace Gealey (aka Anika on Fox’s Empire) and Lucy Owens (now appearing in Miss Sloane).

Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a luxury, travel, features, food and wine writer, travel, wine and food photographer, and performing arts and restaurant critic. Catch her as the Travel & Leisure Adviser on television and radio. Follow her on Twitter @GottaGo, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Facebook.