Noises Off Stage and Beyond: Buzz from Sex With Strangers Star Anna Gunn, Julia Stiles and Tony Yazbeck

Playbill.com correspondent Harry Haun provides the latest insight into the buzz Off-Broadway and beyond.

Anna Gunn and Billy Magnussen
Anna Gunn and Billy Magnussen (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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STRANGERS ON A ROLL: With the Emmy Awards less than a week away, is it any wonder that the most binge-watched series around are "House of Cards" and "Breaking Bad"? A key player in each will be going back for seconds, and you'll find each at Second Stage through Aug. 31 in S ex With Strangers. Laura Eason, who wrote the opus (an old-fashioned romantic comedy in the up-to-date guise of a sex comedy), is story editor and chief shuffler of "House of Cards," which earned even more nominations its second season around. Anna Gunn, who is taking her last shot at the Supporting Actress Emmy she won last year as Bryan Cranston's profoundly uninformed wife on "Breaking Bad," constitutes half the cast of Sex With Strangers.

She's partnered, in the most conspicuous sense of the word, with Billy Magnussen, who plays a sex-and-blog memorist who ups the readership of an old-school love-story novelist. "There's nothing like doing live theatre for me — it's what I've always dreamed of and where I started," said Gunn. Cranston, who copped the Tony in June for All The Way, must have wired that the water's fine. A sold-out run certainly encourages a girl, and she promises to be back. Magnussen's fellow Tony nominees for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and SpikeDavid Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen — formed an opening-night cheering section. "My baby's grown up," Nielsen cooed blissfully.

A friend in deed, David Schwimmer, who acted in Eason's first-ever play, directed this one. During the past 28 years, they've co-starred and/or directed each other at Chicago's Lookinglass Theatre. "The first thing I tried to look for is the truth for each character," he explained, "and then, as we go, it's up to me to find moments that we bring out more of the comedy as well as the characters." This is Eason's third Off-Broadway offering, and she has two other play commissions on the griddle, "but a lot of time is taken up with TV writing. 'House of Cards' has been very consuming."

James Wirt and Julia Stiles
Photo by Harry Fellows

O, YOU KID: Another two-hander that doesn't have a helluvah lot to do with hands is Phoenix, which deals with the problem that sometimes accompanies a one-night stand. It's at the Cherry Lane through Aug. 28, starring Julia O'Hara Stiles (real name) and James Wirt. I first met Stiles for the film "O," in which she was Desdemona to a high-school basketball Othello, and again later for her 2009 Broadway debut in David Mamet's Oleanna, so I glibly congratulated her on finally getting out of the O's. " Phoenix has an O," she shot back in a blink. And so it does. Just try to hear it.

ON AND ON: The longest-running collaboration in show business history — some 60 years and change — will stretch just a few yards on 42nd Street this season when Betty Comden and Adolph Green's On the Twentieth Century takes up residency at the American Airlines Theatre right next their On the Town at the Lyric Theatre.

ANOTHER ASPECT OF YAZBECK: On the Town began rehearsals Aug. 18, with Tony Yazbeck reprising the ( Gene Kelly) role of Gabey that he did with such polish and panache for "Encores!" in 2006. John Rando directed that version as well as the 2013 Barrington Stage Company version that he's bringing on in to Broadway with Yazbeck, Clyde Alves and Jay Armstrong Johnson as the three sailors on NYC shore leave. I spotted Yazbeck in the chorus line of many Encores! long before I spotted him in the chorus line of A Chorus Line. He Broadway-bowed as one of Baby June's Newsboys in the Tyne Daly Gyspy, and, even at that tender age, he looked like all he needed was the girl, which indeed he got a decade later for Patti LuPone's revival. Given "All I Need Is the Girl," he really sang out, Louise. He dances so well people frequently forget he sings, too. His recent turn at 54 Below was designed to remind them. He could do little else on the small space allotted. It forced the singing issue so, vocally, he should really be on his toes for On the Town these days.