Sometimes, being on a first date can feel like being on stage. There is a performance, an art even, to dating. And, like a play, there is risk. Both partners know that one false move could mean embarrassment or worse: rejection. Of course, most first dates don’t take place in front of an expectant audience.
Blind Date, the play made famous by Rebecca Northan, has cut that final fourth wall between dating and theatre. It is an opportunity to experience the tension and awkwardness of a blind date first hand as an audience member, if in a structured and semi-choreographed way. The premise is this: one audience member is chosen to spend 90 minutes on a date with Mimi, played by Tess Degenstein.
For the majority of performances (the show runs until December 17), this audience member will be someone who presents as male – though on Saturday December 9, Mimi will be choosing a female presenting audience member for the first of the Queer Blind Date features. The all-male Queer Blind Date will happen one week later on the 16th, at which Mathieu, played by David Benjamin Tomlinson, will be choosing a male-presenting audience member.
Once the audience member is chosen (which is done before the play, as guests file in), the improvisation begins. It’s quite an ask, really, for the audience member. Dating is hard enough without two hundred people staring at you. The choice of audience member is crucial to the success of the evening. Were Degenstein to choose someone who wasn’t committed, her job would become that much more difficult.
Luckily, on opening night, her choice was a good one. Thomas, the man she chose, was exceptional. His muted and wry performance was a perfect foil to Mimi’s bubbly, French energy. He drove the conversation forward, and revealed parts of himself that seemed even to surprise Degenstein. Yet, it is easy to see how this could go awry.
However, it is just as easy to see the safeguards put in place to prevent that. The story of the date is pushed along by plot devices and scene changes, taking some of the weight off the improvisation. Degenstein does an excellent job of keeping things structured and drawing interesting moments out of her partner. She keeps things moving and she keeps it funny.
And it is a funny show. Most of the comedy comes from the tension of having one actor and one novice on stage, and plays heavily on the awkwardness of the situation the poor audience member has been placed in. The audience is pulled along, wondering how far this ersatz romance will go.
At times, the show did drag as the performers scrambled for paths in which to take the conversation, but it was not overly distracting. Degenstein’s ability to pick up interesting threads and bring back earlier elements kept things from falling too far off the rails.
The show often feels like a Fringe play stretched out to 90 minutes, and while that may turn some off, it also gives the play an authenticity and charm that is disarming and entertaining. By the very nature of the premise, it is loose, and that gives Blind Date its flexibility. No two performances are the same thanks to the fact that each night features a new cast member. Though the framework stays the same, every show gives us a new date to get to know, and that alone makes this show worth seeing.
Blind Date is playing at Great Canadian Theatre Company (1233 Wellington W) until Sunday December 17. Tickets cost $42–58 online and at the GCTC box office. The show is for adults only.