Taking a Clown Out on the Town

Written by Deb Sperling on . Posted in Posts, Theater.

An average looking man—about 5-foot-8, with curly brown hair and a red sweater—sits on a couch on the stage, glistening with sweat. The actress to his right inches closer to him on the couch, her fishnet-stockinged feet grazing his striped socks. Her wide eyes stare expectantly at him over her shiny red rubber nose and pursed lips. The man cranes his neck, nervously averting her gaze, as if looking out into the audience for some sort of cue. The moment seems to last for hours, the tension growing, until finally, the actress opens her mouth.

“Let’s take a time out!” she says, in a thick, highly stylized French accent. She grabs the man by the arm and yanks him across the stage, sitting him down on a single stool surrounded by a square of red tape.

The red square is the reality box, a safety zone where the play that the audience is watching stops and the actress checks in with the man, to make sure everything’s OK. This dude is not an actor. He’s just a regular guy named Nick, who was chosen at random to star in this evening’s performance of Blind Date.

Produced by Kevin McCollum and starring Rebecca Northan as Mimi the Clown, Blind Date—which runs on select nights at the small and cozy Ars Nova through Dec. 20—walks a fine line between audience-participation-heavy theater and reality dating show.

Each night the play is performed, Mimi mingles with audience members in the lobby, before selecting the individual of her choice to play her date for just one evening.

As the other audience members relax into their seats with free wine and popcorn, one very uncomfortable gentleman is escorted up to the stage, where he sits across from Mimi, who’s been waiting for her date at the only table in a fictional French restaurant. A “waiter” brings out a second glass of red wine, and Mimi and Nick sip awkwardly, squirming and straining to make small talk.

A few minutes go by before Mimi calls the first “Time Out” of the evening, to admonish Nick for mentioning his real-life girlfriend, Daniella, who’s sitting in the third row.

“For ze sake of ze play,” Mimi says, momentarily dropping the story, but not her character, “You haf no gaaahlfriend!”

As the evening progresses, Nick relaxes into his role, opening up to Mimi about his (very real) life as a salesman, and politely inquiring into her background. A few more “time outs” are called, to remind Nick to “be himself” and make sure things are still going well. Daniella is allowed to call one “time out” of her own, but she never sees fit to use it.

Before long, Nick and Mimi end up in her “car,” and then finally back at “her place,” where it seems things are about to get serious.

Over the course of the 90-minute, mostly-improvised play, Northan draws her date out of his shell with remarkable charm and grace. She capitalizes on every opportunity to make the audience laugh, with minimal damage to her date’s real or fictional ego. The crowd is captivated, frequently breaching the paper-thin fourth wall to issue instructions (via a whisper or a gesture) to Nick when he seems lost. Music and sound effects are carefully incorporated to produce maximum realism (and comic effect) with minimal set design. Around the half-way mark, you start thinking about buying tickets to a second or third showing.

Back in the reality box, Mimi assures Nick that everything’s going to be OK with his real-life girlfriend, whether or not he goes in for the kiss. “She’s a beautiful, intelligent woman, and you’re moving in with her,” says Mimi. “I’m a fucking clown!”

Blind Date

Through Dec. 20, Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St. (betw. 10th & 11th Aves.), www.blinddatenyc.com