Rebecca Northan, a Canadian actress, walks a highwire in her almost-one-woman show Blind Date — almost, because two zealous men periodically pop in and out to check on her, facilitate the action or plough into the audience impersonating waiters. The evening begins as Northan sits forlornly at a cafe table, wearing a tight red dress and a red nose. She introduces herself as Mimi the Clown and says she's been waiting two hours for her date. Since he obviously isn't coming, she decides to select a new one from the audience. Before the show, Mimi had been visible cruising the place and sizing up the men, but her selection isn't pre-agreed, nor is it one of those five-minute audience-involvement bits. Once the date is landed, he's going to spend the rest of the evening on stage.
Mimi must have liked the guy she selected on the night I went — Robert, or as she called him, Robair — because while the play is scheduled to run about ninety minutes, it actually went on for over two hours.
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There were a couple of loose rules. If Mimi's partner got uncomfortable or confused, he could halt the action and ask for a discussion in the timeout box at the side of the stage. This was meta-theater — "talking about theater while we're in it" — Mimi explained proudly, and should win them a grant or two. Mimi herself called for a time-out once when Robair got slightly insulting — though it seemed clear he was just trying to spice things up a little. Is that how he wanted to play it? she asked pointedly. As an asshole? He didn't. Robair's real-life date, Robin, still seated in the audience, was invited to yell "Bullshit" whenever she felt like it, but she never did — whether because she was enjoying the attention of the two flirtatious sidekicks, who kept plying her with wine, having a bit of fun watching Robair squirm, or was just one hell of a good sport.
Robair — who said he was a graphic designer working on milk cartons — was a good sport, too: confident, verbally quick (which he attributed to having watched a lot of sitcoms), and clearly enjoying the attention. He had just enough soft spots for Mimi to needle (she brought up, more than once, the fact that he and Robin had been dating six years without making a commitment), and enough spunk to enable him to get back at her now and then. And he was fuzzily nice enough to keep us on his side.
Presented by Denver Center Attractions through November 6, Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org.
I've no idea what Mimi does when she gets a man who's drunk, hostile or painfully shy, but I'd love to see it. Because this is one tough lady, and she handled the evening with tremendous aplomb. Robair told her early that he was a controlling kind of guy, so now and then she leaned back and let him take over. But whether the reins were slack or taut, she was guiding the action, from the awkward getting-to-know-you chat in the cafe, to the wine-sodden car ride to her place, to the snuggle on her sofa, and, finally, during an imagined five-years-on sequence. Sometimes the conversation was realistic, with all the hesitations, umms and uhhhs you expect from a first date; now and then a personal — and I'm guessing true — mini-revelation slipped out. The few lightly drawn-out bits of spiel never felt pre-written or rehearsed. And Mimi could be genuinely empathetic and sweet — though never in a soppy, please-like-me sort of way.
It takes a lot of presence and intelligence to embark on a journey like this, which could end up pretty much anywhere, and the packed audience stayed breathlessly and happily absorbed through every second of the ride.