According to DatingSitesReviews.com the first online dating site domain was registered in 1995. Twenty four years later, there are an estimated 8,000 online dating sites worldwide with a revenue of over $3 billion. In the United States there are an estimated 54 million people who are single. More than 49 million have tried online dating. That’s a lot of people looking for love. Online dating is not a fad anymore, it’s a way of life. Diving headfirst into this chaotic, unpredictable, frustrating and even dangerous world comes #DateMe – An OkCupid Experiment, an energetic and entertaining new show created by Robyn Lynne Norris, written by Robyn Lynne Norris, Bob Ladewig and Frank Caeti, directed by Lorin Latarro.
As the lights come up our heroine Robyn (played with beguiling wit and humor by Kaitlyn Black), is conducting an experiment. An actress and comedienne who has yet to find the ‘right guy’ through what most people consider the conventional means, she is finally persuaded to take a crack at online dating. Being the inquisitive sort she wonders what sort of ‘profile’ would generate the best responses from potential future partners. So rather than set up just one profile for herself, she sets up more than thirty, with user names such as HardPack84, BoobsandWangs, TracyLovesCats and Old4U76. She gives them different interests, different personalities, different quirks and even different genders. From the answers she receives she can monitor the sort of people who live on the internet, and what profiles generate what responses. Is it better to be shy and withholding, or boldly out there and overt? We’re told that what follows are actual comments taken from verbatim correspondence, and in that way #DateMe is less a scripted show and more a live social documentary, albeit with music, costumes, lights and lots and lots of humor.
The five extremely talented, hard working ensemble members (Chris Alvarado, Jillian Gottlieb, Jonathan Gregg, Eric Lockley and Liz Wisan) portray both the psychologists overseeing Robyn’s ‘experiment’ and her various online match-ups. They move from character to character at a dizzying pace, giving us a myriad of accents and information, switching into their roles as quickly as they switch into their costumes. A video wall supports the action on stage and a great deal of credit is owed to Sam Hains, the designer for Projections and Interconnectivity, for how the images not only keep up with the quick delivery of the cast but also accentuate and even drive the action. But really all the production elements of this little nugget work well, from Scenic Design (David Arsenault), Costume Design (Vanessa Leuck), Lighting Design (Travis McHale) and Sound Design (Kevin Heard).
At the heart of it all is Kaitlyn Black, a charming actress perfectly suited for the role of Robyn. Sweet and vulnerable when she wants to be, sexy and vivacious when she wants to be, poignant and touching when she needs to be, Black keeps all the balls in the air, keeps the action moving and makes us sympathetic to the difficulties of trying to make a solid connection in today’s world. She is the perfect embodiment of that friend we all have; the one who is lovely and fun but still single and for the life of us we can’t imagine why. We root for her to find the man of her dreams, understanding (as she does) that no one is perfect and all the science in the world can’t necessarily create that perfect match.
#DateMe is a fun ride all the way through but where it really excels is when the actors take it off the page and move into the world of improv. Prior to the show the audience is asked to download the #DateMe app and set up their own personal profiles including pictures, which the cast then displays on stage. (Some of the profile names created were ArabiaStallion, Traveljunkie-mania and the most popular MoneyBags7511, who described himself as ‘a Sensational, Hungry man looking for a woman’.) The cast then chose random members to come up and tell their stories of searching for companionship, online or not, which was followed by a hilarious ‘re-enactment’ of these tales of woe. All the actors, including Black, seem to kick it into high gear during these moments, having almost as much fun as the audience. At the performance I attended, a potential hookup was created between a single man (FlyingToilet) and a single woman (Ain’tTooProudToBeg).
Lorin Latarro is one of the fastest rising stars of the New York stage, having choreographed the recent Broadway productions of Waitress and Les Dangerous Liasons with Janet McTeer and Liv Schreiber. Her direction of this much smaller show is right on the money and she keeps the show racing at breakneck speed, never giving the audience the chance to get ahead of her. #DateMe is not quite a musical, although it has a great deal music throughout and Latarro doesn’t have as much opportunity to show off her choreography skills on the minuscule set of the Westside Theatre but the staging is impeccable. She makes the most of what she has to work with and the six character piece feels like something a lot bigger.
When asked why she embarked on the OkCupid Experiment and created her 38 different profiles, the character Robyn has to admit she doesn’t really know. It is suggested to her that perhaps it is a way of establishing human contact without risking the exposure of her true self. Given the mountain of deceit and falsehoods apparently inherent in the online dating world it would seem that this is the case for many, if not most of the practitioners. In the end perhaps the only way to find that true happy ending is to stop hiding behind the anonymity the internet excels at and show someone your real self. After all, if someone like CountdownToTears can have things work out for her there’s got to be hope for the rest of us.
For tickets and more information go to the OKCupid Experiment site.