Years ago I went on a (pretty fun!) date at Fat Baby, so it was hard to resist the idea of Play/Date, a show about dating at that very bar. The first thing you need to know about Play/Date is basically the only thing you need to know about Play/Date: it’s yet another immersive piece. Play/Date is a series of 17 short plays, from many different playwrights, all of them about a date of one kind or another at Fat Baby. The one acts take place simultaneously on all three levels of the bar. You’re encouraged to wander from play to play, listening in on dates, watching people text each other, drinking with the characters, and so on.
Or more concisely: “It’s exactly like Sleep No More, but with dating.” That’s a conversation I overheard between a cast member and her friends before the show. If you read this blog often, you may have figured out that I’m a big fan of eavesdropping on strangers at the theater, and so Play/Date immediately appealed to me. The whole show is essentially eavesdropping on strangers! How delightful!
So the idea is great. How’s the execution? Well, it’s almost inevitably uneven. There are some interesting one-acts; the 18 actors showed lots of energy and commitment. (I especially refer to the unnamed actress who starts the show by walking into a date topless.) I would imagine that it’s a fairly difficult show to perform, particularly in the comedic sequences, simply because the format doesn’t really allow for the actors to get a feel for their audience. Anyway, as for the plays themselves: generally, I found the straight couples to be more interesting than the gay couples; they just seemed to have better material. I also found the conflicts to be far more successful than the flirtations. I guess that’s no surprise. Who wants to pay to watch “drunk” people make out at a bar? There was also a lovely breakup scene, and several intriguing text conversations (the texts are displayed on the wall behind the actors).
But it was hard to engage with any of it very much. Because the structure of the piece encourages you to explore, I found myself wandering off the moment I started to lose interest in an interaction. That’s all right when you’re watching Sleep No More, which is essentially a dance piece. But throw in dialogue and it’s a whole different animal. The playwrights here have the task of trying to keep a distracted and tipsy audience (who might have missed half their short play anyway) engaged through text and conflict. Most of the time, they couldn’t manage it. It seemed like a good chunk of the audience paid little attention to the show and just spent the evening chatting with friends.
It was still worth seeing as far as I’m concerned, because I got such a cheap ticket and it’s definitely a worthwhile idea. There is lots of talent involved in this production: it was conceived by Blake McCarthy, who brought together a number of playwrights (even Greg Kotis from Urinetown!) to pen the plays. The theater company 3-Legged Dog is also involved: I’ve never seen any of their productions, but they’re known incorporating technology. (They must have been responsible for the cool text message projections.) If you’re going to see a show that doesn’t quite work, you at least want it to be interesting and ambitious, right? And Play/Date is both.
My Grade: C+
Running Time: I forgot to check my watch! Maybe 2 hours?
Ticket Price: $4.50
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: N/A (Most of us were standing throughout.)