Saturday, October 03, 2015

Theatre: Blind Date


Blind Date is a very unique play that is part improvisation and part performance art, featuring Rebecca Northan as Parisian Mimi the clown.  It starts with Mimi wearing a red clown nose and tight red dress, sitting alone at the table of a restaurant waiting for her blind date to show up.  With impeccable comedic timing, she addresses the packed room and informs us that he is 2 hours late, then polls the audience as to how long one should wait for a blind date to show up–5 minutes? 12 minutes? 30 minutes?  After 2 hours, she can safely ascertain that he is not coming.  So what to do?

Instead she will select a member of the audience to come on stage and be her blind date for the rest of the evening.  Her choice is not totally random since she has scouted out potential "victims" or candidates prior to the start of the show, by mingling with the crowd out in the lobby.  It is still not clear whether she gets agreement from her intended choice ahead of time, but the one that she selects is sitting conveniently and easily accessible towards the aisle of the second row.  A disclaimer in the program sounds almost like a legal contract indicating that by attending the show, you agree to the possibility of being picked and will not sue Northan or expect compensation for basically being the co-star in her play.

This concept is not without risks since Northan is never completely sure what type of personality she will get up on stage with her.  But by having a new stranger to interact with each night, she achieves a different show with different conversations each time, which keeps it fresh and exciting, both for her and for the audience.  For the most part, the scenes for the play are preset, but what happens within a scene is largely driven by the flow of the conversation with the blind date.  With great listening and improvisational skills, Mimi builds upon whatever is said by the date and creates a dialogue between them that sounds both natural and hilarious.  By the simple act of wearing the clown nose, Mimi provides a visual cue to remind both her blind date and the audience that what is to follow is just for laughs.

In the show that we attended, the blind date selected was a sweet and reserved man named Tai who was attending the play with his girlfriend of 3 months, Lila.  To put Tai and Lila at ease, each are given a glass of red wine (Lila's glass is handed to her in her seat).  While the main story of the blind date happens in the middle of the stage, Mimi advises that a "time out" area has been set up off to one side.  At any time, if either Tai and Lila feel uncomfortable about anything that is happening, he or she could call a time out and the action would stop while they discuss the issue.  Tai gets infinite time outs while Lila only gets one.

The initial "getting to know each other" scene happens in the French restaurant where we learn about Tai's occupation, his personality, his family and what he looks for in a girl.  One of the funniest moments occurs when he mentions that as a child, he liked to "frolick" in the outdoors, to which Mimi deftly retorts that she has never heard a grown man use that term before. To minimize the amount of time that he needs to speak, Tai peppers Mimi with open-ended questions which she responds to by launching into amusing anecdotes about her "life" and later asks her to dance.  After an extended conversation, a waiter brings the bill and Tai has to make the awkward decision of whether to actually take out his wallet or not.  He decides to mime the payment, to which the waiter takes offense and indicates that they only accept cash or credit, not pretend money.  At that point, Mimi suggests that they "dine and dash", leading nicely to the next preset scene.  I have read that in another performance, the date actually did lay out some real cash (which hopefully he got back afterwards).

Two chairs positioned side-by-side are used to represent Mimi's car and the couple mime opening the door, ducking to not hit their heads as they get inside and putting on their seat belts.  Now might be a good time to note that the lighting and sound effects (e.g. sound of a car door closing, beep when the door is locked) are improvised on the spot based on the course of the action and are executed to perfection.  More hijinks occur in this segment when the pair are pulled over by a policewoman and first questioned about the dine and dash case, and then each given a sobriety test.  Tai and Mimi have taken their glasses of wine with them with they left the restaurant.  One of the jokes that probably gets repeated in every show involves Mimi hiding the two wine glasses under the hem of her dress and later, asking Tai to reach in to retrieve them, while apologizing that they are now a bit "warm".

The third setting is at Mimi's uncle's apartment where the two sit together on a couch.  In what is probably another humorous sequence repeated for every show, Tai is left alone on stage for an embarrassingly long time while Mimi goes to fetch drinks.  Upon her return, Mimi tries to ramp up the intimacy, subtly at first but more and more forcefully while Tai firmly but politely tries to deflect her advances.  It is as if she is trying to elevate Tai's level of unease so that either he or Lila will invoke the time out, but they do not.  Finally Mimi invokes the time out herself, where there is a discussion about just how far the date would go, and what would be the final scene.  The audience is allowed to vote on two potential scenarios and we choose to see where Mimi and Tai are 5 years into the future.

For the final scene of our show, all hell breaks loose in terms of craziness as 5 years from now, Mimi and Tai are living together, with Mimi extremely pregnant and about to give birth.  The show ends really sweetly with Mimi complimenting Tai on his virtues, but especially his bravery for trying something that most men would not consider.

This show is very funny and interesting to watch.  It is fascinating to imagine which parts Northan had to improvise on the spot, and where and how the narrative could have changed depending on what the blind date did or said. Reading some reviews about other performances, it was amazing to learn the varied number of endings that were described. We arrived to the theatre too late for us to witness Mimi the Clown scouting out her potential dates, but if we ever get the chance to watch this again, this is something I would definitely like to see.