Gentlemen: Would you allow yourself to be pulled from a theatre audience to improvise a romantic play with a very attractive woman in a tight red dress and fishnet stockings?
Chances are, you’d be terrified. But Mimi, the sexy star of Blind Date, has a silly red nose that undercuts her allure. She’s also a visitor from France with a delightful accent, a cute tendency to fumble English, and the disarming naïveté of a fish out of water.
Mimi is an endearing clown — a sweet, kooky outsider who lives in the moment with pure, unfiltered emotion.
And as a clown, Rebecca Northan, the Toronto creator and star of this exuberant touring comedy at the RMTC Warehouse, creates a safe place for a non-actor to sincerely go on an unscripted "date" with her.
Every performance will be different, because Northan’s impromptu co-star is always plucked from the audience. (Understudy Julie Orton will play Mimi at the April 7, 14, 19 and 21 matinées.)
The show begins with Mimi’s blind date failing to show up at a café, and her turning to the crowd for a replacement. She pre-screens men in the lobby beforehand, and it seems clear she’ll always choose one who’s with his wife or girlfriend.
She tells her recruit and his still-seated mate that if either feels uncomfortable with the improvised narrative, they can call a time out. That creates lots of comic potential as the guy plays along with Mimi’s increasingly amorous intentions and the wife grows jealous.
At Thursday’s opening, Mimi drafted Warren, 32, a tidy, bespectacled straight-arrow type who loves bacon and wears Superman cufflinks.
Warren, we learned as he chatted over wine with Mimi, wanted to be a fighter pilot, but works at an insurance agency. (Really, you can’t make this stuff up.)
He radiated decency, delivered some spontaneously funny quips and proved to be a wonderfully game and classy leading man, as lovable as Mimi herself. (The mildly racy show, which was peppered with profanity, runs roughly 90 minutes without intermission, but may go into overtime.)
The comic highlight was a scene in which Mimi persuaded Warren to get in her (mimed) car while they were both drinking, only to be pulled over by a Mountie (two supporting improvisers pop in for such roles). It was sheer joy to watch Warren groove to Barry White on the car radio, then gracefully adapt to sound effects from the car and demands from the cop.
It was also priceless to see what Warren did when Mimi left him alone in her living room.
Blind Date is a fringe-festival charmer at heart, and perhaps a questionably lightweight choice for a regional theatre season. It’s not a perfect experience for the audience, considering the non-actor tends to talk during the crowd’s laughter and doesn’t project his voice (hanging microphones do help, fortunately).
While it’s admirable Northan lets the dialogue unfold naturally, the onus is on her to give it comedic sparkle and keep up the pace. Though she told some funny anecdotes and got some nice tidbits out of Warren, her improv on opening night was too safe. Too often, she let the conversation ping-pong on a banal level, instead of pushing it into more revealing, risky territory.
Still, the show makes you feel like a million bucks. There’s something magical and heroic about watching an ordinary person make himself vulnerable, handle whatever’s thrown at him and slip into the flow of a made-up love story.
In its best moments, Blind Date touches the buried part of us that knows how to let go and play.