A Spontaneous Theatre Creation by Rebecca Northan
Nov 22-Dec 30, 2018
Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre, Vancouver
When I walk into the theatre a waiter exclaims “Bonjour!” and serves me a compliment on a platter. As I try to converse with them in French, a woman in a red dress and clown nose weaves through the audience members gathered in the lobby. Regina-born actress Tess Degenstein (Mimi the clown) is picking someone to join her onstage for a ninety minute improvised date.
Degensteins performance was confident and natural. Her body language made the audience believe everything she wanted us to believe: leaning towards her date, putting her hand on his, fully embodying the character. She played to both the audience members and her date, all while improvising and directing the action. The chosen man, named Ravi, was understandably nervous but approachable and playful. He was always present and willing to follow her lead without trying to steal the scene.
Blind Date starts off a bit slow. Mimi coaches Ravi and reassures him that everything will be ok; there’s even a timeout zone if he needs a break. Once the coaching is over and they take their seats at the makeshift cafe, she tells him “anything can happen.” Ravi’s first few lines were inaudible — thank Dionysus the waiters can enter the date and direct the scene without Mimi breaking character. It’s a server (one of the supporting actors who was handing out compliments earlier) who tells Ravi to speak up because “they” were all listening from the kitchen.
These other improvisers show up throughout the show, acting as built-in safety nets when the action becomes too static or sexual. While Mimi makes advances and double entendres and the two get quite close over the course of the show, it is not X-rated. It does get raunchy — but in a more cute than daring way.
Ravi is not an actor so it must take a lot of courage for him to get on stage and be vulnerable in public. Mimi wins the trust of Ravi by allowing herself to be vulnerable too, like when she tells him about her mother, who was a social worker. The more comfortable Ravi becomes the more Mimi pushes him. She drops verbal hints and uses clear body signals to direct the action. If Ravi doesn’t pick up on the cues she will make it more and more obvious until he does, and calls him out when he deflects her questions.
One of the most memorable moments comes when she leaves him alone onstage with no instructions. He sips his bourbon, says “I love theatre”, takes another sip… the audience takes pity on him and breaks the 4th wall, asking Ravi about his experience. The 4th wall is suddenly thrown back up when Mimi pokes her head between the curtains, unable to fathom who he is talking to. Blind Date has many moments like this, where audience, performer and date are all in it together.
Blind Date is as charming and awkward as a real first date. When the conversation stops, the air is full of anticipation and curiosity. The audience laughed genuinely many times, but with the characters rather than at them. The audience was rooting for the one of us that was brave enough to take on the challenge, and he did an amazing job for someone thrown into such a charged environment.
The lighting and sound are also improvised based on the action. Jaunty french music sets the tone of the cafe, and later generic pop plays from the radio. Though other nights it may be heavy metal. Who knows? Light creates a sense of movement on the stage. The only notable costume is Mimi’s red dress. Action continues during set changes, with the players moving into the audience or the timeout zone.
When I saw this show it starred Degenstein as Mimi the dateless clown, but there are two other actors who play this role on different nights (they play supporting characters most nights). I left the theatre feeling lighthearted and amused, and I couldn’t wait to return to see what would happen with a different Mimi and date pair.