17 September 2015
“You have a brave heart and a beautiful soul and it can be clearly seen by anyone who bothers to look closely” is (loosely paraphrased) one of the last things Rebecca Northan said to her co-star at Tuesday’s performance of Blind Date at Tarragon Theatre. I don’t know if she says that every time- the improvised show changes at every performance when a new man is picked from the audience to go on a blind date with Northan’s clown character Mimi- but I imagine she does, or at least she says something like it. I don’t say this to take anything away from the man in question, who seemed like a lovely human being, I say it because I think that it’s mostly true of everyone that, if you look closely enough, you can see a true heart in there somewhere. The beauty of Northan’s show (which I’m choosing to classify as a solo show though it’s really a beast of some other indefinable nature) is that it’s essentially an exercise in looking closely enough.
In just the first week or so of this particular run, Northan has “dated” a 70-year-old, a newlywed, and an accountant who dreams of becoming a rapper, for starters. The evening I reviewed Blind Date, her man of choice was a 29-year-old named Justin. Justin was well-spoken, well-dressed and looked like Jonathan Taylor Thomas if JTT had achieved real adult size instead of topping out at 5’4. On the surface, Justin’s A+ date game suggested he might lead the performance down a less interesting path than, say, Rohan (whose first kiss ever was with Mimi during her second Tarragon performance). But Blind Date is about looking closely- it’s a test of empathy for the audience and Northan as much as it’s a test of bravery for the chosen man- and the closer we looked at Justin, the more complexity began to emerge behind his perfectly crafted “catch” of an exterior. He hesitated before every major personal revelation Northan asked him to expose- his age, his career, where he grew up- he leaned on the “time out” device that allowed him to pause the date at any time and worried constantly about keeping the audience interested. He gave away pieces of himself in the tiniest of increments (“I’m attached but it could be flexible” became “it’s been a couple of years” became “when I said a couple of years I actually meant 8”) but unlocking the psychology of a guarded human being is way more fun than reading an open book.
Even with these humanizing insights, Justin’s confident exterior facilitated an uproariously funny side of the show that must surely lie a bit more dormant when Northan chooses someone shyer. Slightly over-developed self-preservational instincts aside, Justin was quick to laugh at himself so it made it easy for us to laugh with him- breaking into hysterics when he pulled a weird move like giving his entire wallet to the waitress when it came time to pay the bill or giggling with sympathetic discomfort when the date started to gain intimidating momentum. Northan is a seamless improviser with a keen wit and a reassuring presence that allowed her costar to trust her as she pulled him in over his head.
By the end of the 1h 40min running time, the polished and presentational leading man was lying next to Northan on a bed, his shirt unbuttoned and water all over his pants (I could explain, but I won’t). Finally, he spoke to Mimi as though it were just she and him. He told her he loved her spontaneity and her warmth; she praised him like the love of her life- his excellent listening skills, his thoughtfulness, his respect for women, the inspirational way he balances art and science in his life. These insights all keenly observed in under two hours spent in the company of a stranger, because she was looking closely enough to observe them.
The last thing Justin said to Mimi (but really to Northan) was “I’m so glad you chose me”. He wasn’t always the most forthcoming of dates but in that moment, knowing how moved I’d been just sitting in the same room as this character-defining, mind-opening, belly-busting encounter, it was easy to see that he was telling the truth.
Blind Date plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until October 4th. Go (and bring a potential date for Mimi with you; he’ll be glad you did).