In the world of live theater, no show is ever the same twice. Adventures in Mating, a Lonesome Girl Production hosted by Balagula Theatre at Natasha's Bistro & Bar, takes this maxim to a new level in a unique comedy that truly is different each time.
That's because Joseph Scrimshaw's light-hearted script is modeled after Choose Your Own Adventure books in which the reader — or in this case, the audience — makes decisions at pivotal plot points to determine the outcome of one of the most emotionally daunting and comedically ripe aspects of Western culture: the blind date. After all, what could be more fun than directing someone else's hapless romantic misfortunes
The audience is polled during key moments of Miranda and Jeffrey's first date, in a gourmet restaurant, to determine how it unfolds. Choices as seemingly benign as selecting red wine or white make all the difference between a night of "beef and seduction" or "chicken and sadness."
At Sunday's opening-day matinee, the audience opted for "chicken and sadness" to hilarious effect. Spurred on by the The Waiter, played by Garett Wilson, we whooped and applauded our votes for other key plot points.
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In a sense, it is impossible to conventionally "review" Adventures in Mating because it literally will never be the same twice. But it is possible to evaluate the unique elements that could make or break a production that must fly by the seat of its pants to succeed.
Namely, the actors must be able to improvisationally tap dance through a script that could go in any number of directions. The small ensemble — Wilson plus Esther Harvey as Miranda and James Hamblin as Jeffrey — proves up to the task, with Harvey and Hamblin's comedic sparring not only drawing the laughs but revving up the audience to robustly participate.
Harvey and Hamblin heartily embellished their characters' romantic dysfunctions, with Miranda's formal desperation for a husband butting up against Jeffrey's bewildered quest for sex. .
Wilson's sarcastic quips as the waiter provide further comedic punch, but his biggest contribution is his improvisational role as master of ceremonies, leading the audience through the play's stopping points, when he bangs a gong to indicate a choice must be made. For instance, should Jeffrey tell Miranda her outfit makes her look fat, or should he tell her what she wants to hear?
Director Jenny Christian deserves praise for preparing her ensemble to be consistently flexible and for making sure that, no matter what the audience votes, the outcome is fun.