Date Me, currently playing in the Factory Antechamber at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, is an improvised comedy show where creators Ted Hallett and Lisa Merchant act out an imagined first date between two characters based on real life dating profiles. Often laugh-out-loud funny and appropriately awkward, this “different every night” 30-minute farce is one I would definitely see a second time!
According to the slides that introduce Date Me, Hallett and Merchant bought 100,000 online dating profiles (apparently that is a thing you can actually buy?) and will improvise “a date” between two randomly selected profiles every night. The location is suggested by us audience members who were asked to name the best and worst place we’ve ever been taken out on a date. On my night, Hallett selected a Robert Downey Jr lookalike with a penchant for musicals and “honesty,” and invited Merchant, a Disney sweater-wearing, mom-loving young woman out for some fudge and hot chocolate in Pimms, Ontario.
Although “the first date” is not a new set-up for frequent improv-goers, the show was still hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable. Hallett and Merchant are both engaging entertainers who perfectly captured all the awkwardness and tension of a first date while keeping true to the characteristics we read from the profiles.
Of course it helped that the profiles themselves were unintentionally humorous, and there were some jokes made at their expense. Yet, what really got me was the earnestness Hallett and Merchant infused into their performances. While these badly-written online representations may seem a little ridiculous, the experience of going on a first date is a universally stressful experience, and Hallett and Merchant breathed life into these characters to the point where it seemed like a genuine mutual connection was being created on stage.
The show made me think about how the art of improv itself is kind of similar to a modern first date. There may be a few structural rules, but new characters or situations are often created on the spot and you never know what is going to happen — no matter how much time you spend chatting with someone online, meeting them in person is still a completely new experience.
Date Me also brings to mind some interesting points about the almost scary importance of curating your online presence and the lack of privacy it affords. A bad profile can not only deter your ability to find companionship in this increasingly lonely online world of ours, but you may also find your words mocked by comedians.
Even though I mostly enjoyed the performance, I do have a minor quibble with the length. I wonder if perhaps it would’ve worked better if Hallett and Merchant squeezed in two dates instead of one. It may not seem like it, but 30 minutes is a long time and I thought it seemed like the ideas were running a bit thin at the end. In any case, I would highly recommend this show and would definitely consider going again.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage and Studio shows are $15 and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Photo of Ted Hallett and Lisa Merchant by Tanja Tiziana.