Wednesday, October 19, 2022

San Jose Stage presents 'Sex With Strangers'


Ethan (Matthew Kropshot) and Olivia (Allison F. Rich) share a bottle of wine. (Photo by Dave Lepori)

Two strangers meet at an inn in Michigan during a blizzard. After some talk about mutual interests, they’re not exactly strangers any more in Laura Eason’s “Sex With Strangers,” presented by San Jose Stage Company.

Ethan (Matthew Kropschot) is a presumptuous 28-year-old author-blogger. Olivia (Allison F. Rich) is a 39-year-old teacher and a published but not well known author.

He says he admires her writing and wants to connect her with his agent, who could have her next book published as an ebook. She’s not interested. She wants a real book that she can hold in her hands.

He also tells her about his blog and his books, “Sex With Strangers” and “Sex With Strangers 2.”

Those books chronicle his escapades after a bet with his buddies that he could bed a different woman every week for a year. After reading it, Olivia is disgusted at his utter disregard for women.

These conversations are interrupted by sudden rounds of passion (offstage during ear-splitting rock music in Steve Schoenbeck’s sound design).

Act 2 takes place in Olivia’s Chicago apartment just after Ethan returns from a trip to New York. There’s more talk and more sex, but eventually he leaves and she apparently stays, but both of them have changed for the better.

Director Johnny Moreno paces the play well, avoiding the pitfalls that might come with only two characters. He also happens to have two gifted actors with Kropschot and especially Rich, a San Jose Stage favorite.

The set and lighting are by Maurice Vercoutere with costumes by Jean Cardinale.

Running about two hours with an intermission, “Sex With Strangers” will continue through Oct. 30 at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

For tickets and information, call (408) 283-7142 or go to

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Hillbarn stages prize-winning study of racism, "Clybourne Park"


Featured in Act 2 are (from left) Mary Lou Torre, Steve Allhoff, Caitlin Gjerdrum, Ron Chapman and Anju Hyppolite. (Photo by Mark and Tracy Photography)

Racism permeates both acts of “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, presented by Hillbarn Theatre.

In both acts, the sale of a home in the fictional Clybourne Park neighborhood of Chicago is at issue.

Set in 1959, the first act is regarded as a successor to Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” which ends with a Black family’s decision to move into a white neighborhood.

In “Clybourne Park,” the home is owned by a white couple, Russ (Ron Dritz) and Bev (Mary Lou Torre). They don’t know that they have sold it to a Black family until a friend, Karl (Scott Reardon), joined by his deaf wife, Betsy (Caitlin Gjerdrum), tells them.

Karl tries to dissuade them, hinting around at first, then becoming more direct. He’s backed by another friend, Jim (Steve Allhoff), a minister.

Most of this is silently witnessed by the couple’s maid, Francine (Anju Hyppolite), and her husband, Albert (Ron Chapman).

Still mourning the tragic death of his and Bev’s son, a Korean War vet, Russ is undeterred in his determination to sell the house and impolitely tells the visitors to leave.

Act 2 takes place 50 years later in 2009. By then the house is a fixer-upper in what has become a Black neighborhood.

A white couple, Steve (Reardon) and Lindsey (Gjerdrum), want to tear it down and build a much larger one. These plans are opposed by a neighborhood group led by Lena (Hyppolite) and Kevin (Chapman). They say the big new house would alter the neighborhood’s charm. In essence, they fear gentrification.

The two sides, each represented by an attorney (Torre and Allhoff), meet at the house to try to resolve their differences. A contractor (Dritz) occasionally barges in.

Although laced with humor, Act 1 contains some crude language, but Act 2 goes further with tasteless, offensive jokes. Hence, this play is recommended for mature audiences only.

Directed by Phaedra Tillery-Boughton, the seven actors do an outstanding job of creating characters with distinctive ways of speaking, acting and reacting that can be natural, likable or annoying, depending on the circumstances.

Eric Olson’s set makes a more modest transition between the two acts than the transition seen in other local productions, which depicted the house totally trashed in Act 2.

The theater lobby has some small posters with l959 prices such as 25 cents a gallon for gas and $3,000 for a Pontiac.

Lighting by Ed Hunter and sound by Jules Indelicato are both effective. Costumes by consultant Pam Lampkin and wig and hair styles by Jenny Maupin accurately depict the changes over five decades.

Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Best Play Award, this thought-provoking play shows that despite changes in outward appearances, racism and class differences are still with us.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Clybourne Park” will continue through Oct. 30 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit