Loose Moose Theatre
August 31 – September 10, 2011
Blind dates, even the good ones, can be exhausting. So imagine trying to go on a blind date almost every night of the week for weeks on end. Now imagine doing it in front of a live audience. This is exactly what Calgary native Rebecca Northan did when she took her comedy Blind Date on a tour from Calgary to Toronto and New York. The show was a hit and its success has scored Northan future touring dates in Denver, Des Moines, Winnipeg, Regina and St. Paul, but this time there will be back up. More specifically, Northan is training understudies to take over her role in the play so she can have a break now and then.
Taking over the leading lady role are two Calgary actresses, Julie Orton and Renee Amber, who take turns with the play for 10 days until Northan herself reprises the role in the final performance. On opening night, it was Amber’s turn to try on the role of Mimi, a French, giddy, flirty smart and funny clown nose-wearing female character who finds herself alone at a café being stood up by her blind date.
But the stage is not the first time the audience has seen and heard from Mimi. At least not the men in the audience. Throughout the pre curtain lobby wait, Mimi has been working the crowd chatting up the men to find the perfect “volunteer” for her performance thus putting into motion the entire set-up and premise of the play. Once her real blind date does not show up, Mimi picks an unsuspecting man out of the audience to be her new blind date for the duration of the play in what is surely the grandest example of improv meets good sportsmanship meets plain luck.
In this sense, Blind Date is a hard play to review as each night is different depending on the man chosen to participate. But the basic plot direction is the same. Mimi chats the man up in a café as though they were on a real date, they take her car to her apartment, hang out at her place and then either continue to play out the date or fast forward to 5 years in the future as per the audiences choice. Running alongside the play part of the performance, is a dedicated time-out part of the stage that either Mimi or her male date can go to if either is feeling uncomfortable or needs to discuss how the narrative is going. It’s also where either can address the audience for help or advice.
It’s a totally unique type of play that is the perfect set up for some very funny or very awkward situations and both were on display opening night. Amber chose a good-looking strapping young man named Brandon to perform with her and for the most part he was a great sport playing along and working into the comedy. He danced with her at the café, agreed to fake kiss her at her apartment and even said yes to stripping down to his underwear and a robe in the final scene. Actually poor Brandon had to admit to all that he wasn’t wearing underwear and therefore couldn’t strip down and instead had to go backstage and put on the underwear the savvy production team had waiting “just in case”. Yeah….they’ve done and seen it all in this production and are very well prepared for almost everything.
But there were awkward moments too like when Brandon’s girlfriend stopped the play mid-stream at one point because she was uncomfortable with something Mimi had said in reference to her and then requested that someone come and sit with her in the audience. It’s these kinds of moments that can turn a very funny performance into a nightmare exercise for the lead actor and a squirm-inducing moment for the audience.
But to Amber’s credit, her Mimi manoeuvred out of the bumpy patches with grace and light-heartedness and brought the audience (and Brandon’s girlfriend) around to laughing again. It’s a demanding role that requires on your feet thinking, comedic timing and a good sense of how to get the best out of people. The “volunteer” man may be what makes the play new every night, but it is Mimi that ultimately makes or breaks the play. And for a first time out I thought Renee Amber did a very decent job. Her Mimi was sweet and funny delivering more than a few great shots and while the audience wasn’t roaring with laughter, there was a sense of everyone having a fun time. And how many blind dates can you say that about?
For the guys – No doubt you will spend the entire play thinking thank-heavens it isn’t me up there, but that alone will make you laugh at what’s going on. The rest is gravy. SEE IT
For the girls – Watching Mimi ultimately control the date and get the best of her male counterpart won’t erase every memory of bad blind dates past – but it will strike enough chords that you will laugh both with Mimi and at her. SEE IT
For the occasional audience – It’s not a regular play or even a regular comedy, but it’s not so experimental that you’ll feel cheated out of the laughs. A total fun night out. SEE IT
For the theatre junkie – The 2 actors are being trained by the master herself. They may not be able to pull off Northan’s characterization and comedy quite yet, but watching the evolution of a very popular, unique and successful show is worth the ticket price. SEE IT