Some years ago, writer-actor Luciann Lajoie found herself alone and at loose ends, so she decided to try Internet dating. In Date, seated in what looks like a pretty bare apartment, wearing blue jeans with a hole in the knee, empty chip bags on the table beside her laptop along with a fortifying bottle of wine, she takes us step by step through the process. She begins with a description of trying to break into theater in New York — a boring day job, ego-deflating auditions and, finally, the wealthy, fascinating lover who flew her to London. A perfect situation, she concluded, and "all I had to do was make this man love me." Which didn't happen.
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We're somewhere between Girls and Sex and the City territory here. Lajoie is a little older and much more charming and self-assured than the sad-looking protagonist of Girls, but she's not inhabiting the narcissistic and artificial Cosmo-style world of Carrie and her fashionable and inexplicably wealthy friends, either (though the Jones Theatre, where Date is now playing, does accessorize the ladies' room in Sex and the City style, with a clutter of hairpins, tampons, makeup and magazines like Self and Cosmo scattered around the sinks).
And Lajoie's approach isn't purely solipsistic. Having worked her way through the Internet scene, from cheap sites to more expensive and specific ones — figuring out what minor lies she needed to tell in her profile and how to Photoshop her picture; enduring first and even second dates; becoming date-obsessed and going on dozens a week; and trying to figure out who turns her on and why a perfectly nice doctor leaves her cold ("I just can't fuck a meatloaf for the rest of my life") — Lajoie took a tape recorder to a hundred other people who had tried online dating. She then employed the services of a host of local actors, and their videotaped interpretations of the interviewees' words play intermittently on the wall behind her. These vignettes are skillfully interwoven with her narrative, adding context, contour and variation, so that we get a sense of what it means to brave the world of Internet dating for people of different races and ages, if you're desperately lonely, just goofing around, recently widowed or HIV-positive. The videos also help Lajoie get out a lot of pertinent facts. What percentage of participants find permanent relationships through Internet dating, for example. What men look for in profiles of women, and vice versa. Is it better to correspond with prospective dates for a while, or to meet them early? Her script alludes to some nightmare scenarios, too: a sudden physical attack, a lonely older woman who loses a huge amount of money to a skilled scam artist, old guys out trawling for "a nurse and a purse."
Part of the pleasure of watching Date is seeing so many actors you've admired in other contexts on the videos. Brian Landis Folkins is creepily sex-obsessed. Erik Edborg explains what to pretend to have read for your profile. Longtime real-life married couple Sallie Diamond and Ed Baierlein play a pair who met happily online: He smiles enigmatically while she babbles about soup and consummation. Karen Slack is very funny as a good Jewish girl looking for a good Jewish guy. And what animated and interesting faces: some young, some older, some conventionally attractive, others unconventionally so. Together they underline the sheer impossibility of communicating the unique and essential self through a screen profile, a photo and the answers to some formulaic questions.
Off Center @ the Jones is a division of the Denver Center Theatre Company designed to be more experiential and experimental than the main theaters, and more appealing to upcoming artists and younger viewers. The world premiere of Date — a piece Lajoie originated and eventually completed in collaboration with the DCTC's artistic staff — fills the bill. A vivid, talented actress, Lajoie makes an excellent guide through the dating thickets — tough yet self-deprecating, attractive but approachable. Her piece isn't deep, but it is smart and funny, and it conveys real insights into how people present themselves, how human connections get made and broken, the power of the new media and the destructive effects of persistent loneliness.