Friday, July 18, 2014

Play/Date: Immersion in NYC Dating

"I want to lick your asshole."

I hear someone say this over my shoulder but I'm comfortably ensconced on an banquette. I could get up and find out what that scene is about, but instead I hold my ground and pass up the chance to hear more from the "licking" scene.  This is not just another night out in a NYC bar but a theater performance, called Play/Date, happening inside a NYC bar.  As choose-your-own-adventure theater goes, it's often a battle of FoMo (fear of missing out) and you win some and lose some. Play/Date is a new immersive production which takes over Fat Baby, a bar on the Lower East Side, four nights a week and offers up 17 stories on dating in New York.

Production photo
Unlike the sprawling Sleep No More, Play/Date's immersion offers a more intimate setting, with the staging occurring in three spaces within the bar.  But many stories are packed inside--tales of hook-ups, break-ups, and meet-ups.  Different writers have contributed to this piece including
Greg Kotis (Urinetown), Clay McLeod Chapman, and Chad Beckim.  The show was conceived by Blake McCarty and is directed and designed by Michael Counts. 

As observational theater goes it's a bit ADD. At one point in the show, sitting in one spot I could see and hear snippets of 4 different scenes. Puppets seemed to be having sex (I couldn't hear them I could only see them flailing about) while I watched an intense game of flirting between friends.


The drinks menu doubles as your theater program, giving some general direction as to where and what scenes will be taking place on the three levels--providing only titles and authors for each scene.  Unlike a larger more complex narrative, the actors changed characters when they changed scenes, save a few unique situations.  So if you miss one scene you do not miss out on a bigger arc.  One woman, leaving more and more voicemails with escalating intensity over the course of the evening, is reoccurring.

Production photo
As this is connected with 3-Legged Dog they have integrated technology into the presentation. Some characters are texting, Skyping, and Tindering as they sit there on their phones and their activities are
gorgeously recreated and projected behind them.

In a particularly memorable scene (Azul by Jacqueline Guillen) a woman mournfully sings to her long-distance boyfriend over FaceTime.  You can also follow "characters" from the show over Instagram and Facebook before and during the show.

There's a little circus barking from the " bartender" and "waitstaff" who give occasional context and set-ups for scenes. But largely you wander on your own.  You see actors wearing headsets and you stop and listen.  Audience members may get referenced in scenes but I didn't see anything as scary as audience participation.

Sitting next to me at one point were a group of women (audience members) who seemed to have liquored up before the show and they were singing along to the bar music in the end.  In some ways their loud antics were appropriate in this setting. Being loud, obnoxious, or checking Facebook on your cell phone starts to blend in in the bar setting and doesn't quite come across as inappropriate "theater" behavior in this space. And though this is immersive it is not meant to be interactive.

I stumbled upon quite a few first date scenes which after the third one started to feel repetitive. There's only so much of other people's awkward that I can take.  I much preferred mixing that with already established relationships.  A stand-out in the evening was Secrets of a Healthy Relationship by Jamie Roach which was both hilariously written and well-acted.  I was glad to end the evening on that particular scene.

I attended the show a bit early in the run so I hope some technical kinks get worked out as they perform it a bit more. I strained to hear some scenes and the volume and overlap of other scenes made it hard to hear as well. The scenes aren't so precious that to miss a line or two it's confusing but hey I like playwrights and I assume they want you to hear all the lines.

It boils down to a fun experiment.  I've been a fan of a number of immersive works. But ultimately either the atmosphere, dramaturgy, writing, or storytelling has to carry the experience.  I needed a nudge more on the narrative side to make the Play/Date experience a cut above.  But it was about 700% less awkward than most dates I've been on so order up a drink and enjoy the struggles of your fellow New Yorkers as they just try to find love, sex, or fun in this city of 8 millions stories.

PLAY/DATE is at Fat Baby  (112 Rivington Street, between Essex and Ludlow Streets, on the Lower East Side) Sundays-Wednesdays.

I received a complementary ticket to attend this show.

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