Reviewed by James Karas
***** (out of five)
Toronto’s redoubtable Tarragon Theatre opened its 45th season with a fraud. I speak of Blind Date, a ninety minute play by Rebecca Northan which is surreptitiously called “a creation.”
The “creation” is based on the premise that an actor, the same Rebecca Northan in this case, can choose randomly a man from the audience and go on a “blind date” with him right in front of our eyes, a date that lasts almost 90 minutes.
The result on the night I saw the production (September 17, 2015) was an infectiously hilarious evening at the theatre but can we really believe the premise of an instant blind date?
Let’s start with Northan. She plays Mimi, a woman from Avignon with a delicious French accent, a clown’s red nose and extraordinary comic talent. She can turn an insignificant line into a comical gem. She uses the usual panoply of a genuine comedian: timing, intonation, body language, in short, genius for comedy.
The clincher here is not that she has all of those characteristics but that she practices them to superb effect with a man that she just plucked from the audience who could easily be a dunce who freezes on stage.
On the day I saw the creation, Northan picked a young man from the audience named Dach. Dach is a self-employed equipment salesman who works from home. He went to the theatre with his girlfriend whom he had dated eight times.
Dach gave an outstanding comic performance. He was convincingly a bit nervous on his unrehearsed transformation from spectator to star in a few seconds and he was very funny. Dach had to deal with a glass of wine that had fruit flies in it; give personal information and leave with Mimi to go to her apartment carrying a glass of wine. The police stops them and Mimi hides their glasses of wine between her legs. Dach has to reach under her dress to get the glasses from there so Mimi can step out of the car for the sobriety test. Can you hear the laughter?
The creation has two more characters who work in the bar and Northan turns these minor parts into comic marvels. Christy Bruce serves wine and Kristian Reimer is the bar manager but both get laughs by simply serving a couple of glasses of wine and reacting to Mimi and Dach. Bruce and Reimer are also scenographers and Bruce is an alternate Mimi.
If you were in the theatre, you would be sitting on the edge of your seat laughing but since you are not, you are no doubt getting heart palpitations at the accusation of fraud. It is quite understandable.
Well, j’accuse Northan of creating and acting in a piece that is simply too good to be the result of a random pick from the audience. The play, the acting and the ambience that Northan creates is simply too good to be true as she contends. Is it possible for Northan to pick up energy from her guest, create situations, come up with replies to his comments and create extraordinary comedy spontaneously? Remember this is not someone being picked from the audience as on some television show, kept on stage for a couple of minutes, perhaps mildly ridiculed and sent packing after a couple of cheap laughs.
Dach is treated with respect, Mimi recalls what he says long after he has said something and creates comedy from these comments.
This was also one of the rare occasions when the performers have the audience in the palms of their hands and can make them laugh at will.
Is it possible that someone is so talented that she can do this every night or is it just a setup? Northan tells us that she has been having blind dates on stage for some seven years and she has trained other women to do the same. Good grief!
The only solution is for you to see Blind Date and we will have a referendum on the issue. We can put it on the ballot on October 19 or have one of our polling experts tell us if this is comic creativity at its most mindboggling 19 times out of 20 with no margin of error.