Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review: The Rules of a First Date

Ah the first date. The night when two love-hungry people meet and begin what they hope will be the first chapter of their lives together. But that can all be derailed at the end of the evening due to one piece of paper. Scholars have been debating for centuries over the proper protocol when dealing with the check. Yes, that's right. The make or break of a date. In Paul Weissman's romcom Dutch, a young pair have a great first date until they split the bill and it all goes downhill from there.
Marianne and John are on the quintessential first date. They share stories, laugh at jokes, smile, and gaze into each other’s eyes. The gateway toward the future. And then the waiter brings the check over. John hesitates. Marianne waits. And finally asks if he wants to go dutch. John agrees and that’s the beginning of the end. Dutch is a romantic comedy about love and dating in the modern age. Weissman’s play is a cute romantic comedy for the stage that recycles stereotypes of the typical Hollywood romcom. Not that that’s a bad thing. The plot is simple. Dutch follows the pair through a journey of dates, a flurry of bad advice from the best friends, and demise and pining of a lost love. While there may not be anything new to gain from Dutch, Weissman and company certainly bring the entertainment. Weissman’s dialogue is quick and witty, bringing some wonderful one-liners to the stage. His characters fall into the regular romcom categories but they seem to still have their own identity. John is the geeky romantic lead. Marianne is the typical overthinker. And Claire and Ben are the quirky and slacker best friends, respectively. For a play about relationships, Weissman does a fine job at crafting solid relationships between the four. The best bud pairings are rich and relevant. They have their own language that allows for the quick dialogue to come naturally.
photo courtesy of Fred Backus
The quartet of Dutch did a superb job bringing life to their characters. As John, Michael Jayson was a terrific romantic lead. Jayson’s essence on stage was reminiscent of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He was darling, suave, and simply irresistible. Jayson was smooth with his comedic timing, especially with Joseph Esbenshade’s Ben. Esbenshade played up the loveable goofball with the sentimental side. Thankfully Esbenshade avoided the gross out humor that tends to follow this sort of character. As Marianne’s confidant Claire, Morgan Zipf-Meister offered a dry sense of humor and ridiculously on-point comedic delivery. Zipf-Meister was wonderfully quirky, making the role her own. Of all of Weissman’s characters, the only one to fall into the terrible stereotype trap was Marianne who sadly ended up being the least likeable of the bunch. Lindsey Carter had some sweet moments early on, but as the character began to whine, Carter was forced to follow.
Director Fred Backus did a nice job keeping the story real yet fun. Backus kept things simply moving by mostly avoiding scene changes, slamming right into the next scene. Though there were only four, it would have been cleaner to have the actors do any shifts that were necessary. With a small space to contain three large scenic pieces and up to four actors, Backus did all he could to ensure sight-lines were as clean as possible, though the box formation did repeat itself often.
Dutch is a witty and fun little comedy that the romantic inside is sure to relate to. Sometimes theater doesn’t need to be ground-breaking to be entertaining. Weissman and co set out to make the audience laugh. And they did just that.