Stage to Page is celebrating local writers all month long by publishing their perspectives on themes related to our production of Sex with Strangers by Laura Eason. #stagetopageptc

Frances Ellison is a writer at Philadelphia Weekly.  She is a recent graduate of Chestnut Hill College and has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Professional Writing. You can read her work here. Follow her on Twitter @classicfran1. In this essay, Ellison takes an incisive look at “nice guy” Ethan Kane. *Spoiler Alert*

 

 The Ethans of the world can get away with their behavior fully believing that they’re the good guys because there are more people like him validating their conduct rather than admonishing it. What we need is more Olivias.

Ethan Kane vs. Ethan Strange

“I’m one of the good guys!”

By Frances Ellison

Sex with Strangers is a contemporary play about Ethan Kane, a young 20-something riding the fame of his blog-turned-book deal, and Olivia, a university professor struggling in obscurity after her first attempt at a novel went belly up. Over the course of a year and a half, Ethan and Olivia form a relationship after being snowed in together for a weekend at a bed and breakfast.

The play is a very rousing and at times poignant commentary on relationships and writing in the Internet age. One question that I (or Olivia) could not shake throughout the show was just how much of Ethan Strange was a character.

Ethan Strange is a persona he supposedly created one drunken night when he was 19; he promised his friends that he could sleep with one woman a week for a year—the stipulation being that he had to meet them in person, no Tinder-like dating apps. Ethan, a self-proclaimed “asshole”, is adamant during the whole show that his online persona is fake and the girls featured on his blog were all consenting parties. “I’m one of the good guys,” he says. However, his language about women, even in times he’s not supposed to be playing the character of Strange, is problematic at best and borderline psychotic at worst.

Ethan’s constant back and forth between person and persona is not just limited to live theatre. It’s indicative of a very common problem women face. Ethan (and many men like him) suffers from an extreme case of nice guy syndrome.  He will hold open doors, lend you his jacket and dry your tears – so long as you return his affection. The second a nice guy doesn’t see his fruits of his efforts, he will quickly become the Mr. Hyde to his Dr. Jekyll. Ethan is able to placate this cognitive dissonance by insisting that he’s simply living up to his character, but as the show goes on, it seems increasingly harder for him to turn it off.

The lines for Ethan don’t just seem to blur in his regard (or lack thereof) of women but also how he treats Olivia, especially in relation to her book deal. He frames his opinions on how she should handle her second book deal as friendly advice, but even there, the audience can catch momentary glimpses of Ethan Strange. His advice is incredibly self-serving and pushy as he tries to get her to sign on with his company, as opposed to taking the deal she’s been offered, framing himself yet again as the nice guy. Once again, when he doesn’t get what he wants, he impulsively publishes her book without her knowledge (or consent).

The Ethans of the world can get away with their behavior fully believing that they’re the good guys because there are more people like him validating their conduct rather than admonishing it. What we need is more Olivias.

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