Blind Date is sweet and engaging, on stage in Toronto
In Blind Date, currently onstage at Buddies In Bad Times, a clown selects a member of the audience to play the role of their blind date. This is the queer version of the original concept by Rebecca Northan. On opening night the clown in question was Mimi (Julie Orton), who invited another woman to join her onstage; on some nights it will be Mathieu (David Benjamin Tomlinson) who is expected to choose a man. This is a binary conception of gender and sexual orientation, but the site does say they are open to trans and genderqueer dates, and there has been talk of a nonbinary clown in future productions. Regardless of the complexities of identity, the show is extremely fun, and surprisingly touching.
If you are concerned about attending because you would never willingly engage in improv, don’t worry: Mimi mingled with the assembled folks in the cabaret space before we filed into the main theatre, acquiring the consent of a list of people to draw one from. (As a reviewer I was given a clip-on flower to designate me as a no-fly zone). The content of the show is very much determined by the character and reactions of the person ultimately playing the “date.” I have no idea what any other show of the run will be like; I can only tell you what I saw. And what I saw was amazing.
The woman on opening night was someone with a charming spontaneity that gave Mimi the chance to think on her toes, while not solely burdening her with the task of entertaining us. The Date was unexpectedly open with sharing her personal history — and sexual kinks — and Orton had the perfect grace to let that honesty take the space it deserved. While comedy was ever present, it never poked fun at her (or anyone’s) experiences and preferences.
The Date was very comfortable in her body, allowing her and Mimi to share a physical intimacy that felt authentic. It was, of course, performative, but as it was unrehearsed and unplanned, it felt raw and real. Apparently, making out with someone wearing a big red nose is as awkward as one might imagine.
It helped that Orton’s Mimi is basically a dream girl (this may betray my personal taste, of course). She is funny, smart, perceptive, and attentive. She is a clown I would definitely date.
Other minor characters added their own flair to the situation. In the restaurant setting where the date begins, the server and the restaurant manager had a tiff over the fact that the date didn’t drink, — but would welcome a vape pen, if they had one. (I believe these were played by David Benjamin Tomlinson and Bruce Horak.) Later, in one of my favourite scenes, a police officer appears (Rebecca Northan). The staging of the cop’s entrance and the physical antics that ensued were fantastic.
There was a section of the stage where the two could retire to shed the make-believe of the show and process what was happening — in full view of the audience of course. That functioned as a safety measure for both people onstage, but it also gave the audience some relief when things became… confusing. The confusion was of the “what are the actual emotions going on here, what are the expectations” variety that can be applicable to all first or early dates. And that confusion was welcome, as was the managing of it. I felt like it gave me some insight into dating, should I ever try to do that again.
My only reservation, which my companion for the evening shared, was the setup of the final scene. It seemed stereotypically lesbian and lacking context or background. I’m very interested in how that scene is played with a male clown protagonist.
The very final moments, no matter how they got there, are sweet and lovely. This is when Orton shows us how insightful she can be and gives us hope in romance.
While the structure of the show will likely be the same every night, each will be very different, depending on the person playing the Date . If I had the time, I’d see every night of the run.
- Blind Date is onstage at Buddies In Bad Times, 12 Alexander St, until October 9th
- Showtimes are Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sunday at 2:30 PM
- Tickets are $34 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, $39 on Friday and Saturday, and $34 in advance or Pay What You Can at the door on Sunday matinees
- Purchase tickets online or at 416.975.855
Photo of Julie Orton in Blind Date by Connie Tsang