Theater Schmeater is calling this the second annual production of Adventures in Mating by Joseph Scrimshaw. That may be tongue-in-cheek, but for the last two summers, they have been breaking box office records with this interactive call-it-the-way-the-audience-wants-it play. Maybe it's the allure of seeing a different play every night, since each audience has the opportunity to "vote" on which of several options the characters will choose. Maybe it's the perfect summertime entertainment that goes sweetly with an alcoholic beverage.
Adventures (through Aug. 9) first won the "Worst of the Fringe" award from the Minneapolis Fringe Festival of 2005, where Scrimshaw resides. It's a spoof on every blind date cliché, with a twist. At key moments, the action is frozen, and the audience is polled to determine the next scene.
Miranda (Alyssa Keene) is waiting for her blind date at a nice restaurant, Café Serendipity, and when Jeffrey (Daniel Wood) arrives, he blurts out that he'd been delayed because his pants got wet and he was standing in a bathroom underneath a hand dryer for the last twenty minutes. This potentially unpleasant vision threatens the very start of their blind date, but somehow, Miranda stays put and gives Jeffrey more chances to fall on his face.
Miranda puts Jeffrey through a grueling ritual of interview-style questions, after stating flatly that she was not looking for a date, but a husband. Period. Full stop. Jeffrey has to decide if he wants to end the date, at that point. So far, we're not sure if either of them is a prize, nor if we should want them to get together or not.
That's fine, because shortly, the audience gets its first chance to steer the action in a direction of its choosing: Should Jeffrey order red wine or white? Let's vote. Leading the voting is the Maitre d' (Michael White), who explains how it all should work. He must lead the audience into enthusiastically responding with its part of the festivities, and since each direction chosen leads to a different possible scene, he plops a huge binder onto a hapless audience member's lap. The binder contains the dozens of possible scenes the actors could play. Every time he rings a bell, the audience gets a vote.
This is all very pleasantly silly. White, in his role of Waiter, deftly encourages loud crowd behavior and pops out with tasty little puffs of wit. He is the puppet master of the evening. He warns about certain choices having dire consequences to the date, which probably makes the dangerous choice the most desired at the moment. One such choice leads to death and a very, very short play!
The set, by Michael Mowry, is a pleasant outdoor garden setting, giving it a balmy dinner-under-the-stars feeling. Teri Lazzara, this year's director, gets better acting out of the (all new) crew than last year's production. Keene's performance of Miranda gives her a bit of believability and overcomes the very distinct possibility that the audience will hate her by showing her vulnerable side, and breaking down in tears over how many men have left her. Wood could benefit by holding back some of the eagerness he displays toward Miranda in the beginning, because he looks so much like a wimp, it's painful. But the script calls for a lot of awkward fun, and he delivers, with gawky gestures veering between being the "bad guy" that women fall for and the "good guy" who does whatever a woman tells him to do.
So what prompts a second go-round after last year? Success, in a word, and the excitement that Teri Lazzara, managing director, found in comments from the audience. She reports that people came multiple times to see different endings and even brought friends to pack the audience to steer the choices toward ones they hadn't seen yet. "It was so much fun last year," she says. "2007 was the new staff's first season, and we really thought that the lovely summer in Seattle would be a difficult slot to draw audience. David's (Gassner, artistic director) decision to fill it with light, fun, summer fare paid off, not only in box office (receipts), but in all around great times for the team. Our wonderful landlord fixed the air conditioning, too, which was a huge bonus."
Aside from a change in actors, this year's show has subtle, but significant, changes from last year's production. Lazzara explains, "Playwright Joseph Scrimshaw made some changes, including more audience participation. I was lucky to be in communication with Joseph before rehearsals began, and his suggestions for the process were invaluable. The cast, director, and crew are all new. Sound Designer Jason Gorgen was able to join us again. Set Designer Michael Mowery came up with the lovely outdoor patio setting for the gourmet restaurant. And if you listen carefully, you'll hear Rod Stewart in the pre-show and intermission music."
A key challenge to this play is the fact that it has dozens of scenes, instead of the normal twelve or so per play. Lazzara describes how they managed to work on it during rehearsal and what she felt was important to emphasize: I asked Joseph how he would do it, and he suggested we should read the whole thing through first, to get an idea of the shape of the whole piece. Then, I did a spreadsheet and did all the possible 'flows,' and found that if you did these seven scenes — not including the dead ends — you would hit every possible scene for rehearsal. Most of the rehearsal process, I would tell them (the actors) what to work on, and they would know ahead of time. But they have to be ready for anything. They have to keep it real. I want the people in the audience to recognize in you something about themselves or something about someone they know. I want to see that truth from the actors, because even though it's funny, it has something to say about relationships.