Neil Haven’s “The Playdaters”
If playwright Neil Haven weren’t so ambitious in his ideas, his new The Playdaters would merely be the most hilarious romantic comedy ever and destined for Hollywood. His nose for apt situations and gift for one-liners had Thursday night’s audience laughing uncontrollably for most of the show’s 60 minutes. Get this:
Two guys — pals and roomies — send each other on fake dates through an online service (www.dontdiealone.com). They win points by playing nasty but harmless pranks on the unsuspecting women (Karen Estrada, a fierce comedienne who will do absolutely anything for a laugh, plays all of them). It’s wall to wall fun for the guys and us until — uh-oh! — one of them goes sweet on a potential date. Thus the plot turns to the eternal question of romantic comedy: To commit or not to commit? Very clever; Haven has figured out the genre.
On that level, The Playdaters is brilliant, in large part because the one-liners deftly establish character even as they make us laugh. We especially get to know the love interest, Lydia, as Liz Shipe reveals Lydia’s not-so-sweet side in one jaw-dropping, well-timed joke after another. The play is not an excuse for the jokes; Haven has integrated them deeply into the plot and characters, and that’s not easy.
But that wasn’t enough for the young playwright. This little play is a meta-theater, in which romantic comedy looks at itself with a jaundiced eye. The main characters — Haven as Spencer (the romantic one) and Jeremiah Munsey as Erwin (the lovable clod who won’t grow up) — can snap their fingers to step outside the play and argue about where it’s going. More and more, they realize that they are enmeshed in a romantic comedy and not real life. (A whiff of the much darker Six Characters in Search of an Author wafts about The Playdaters.) Our sympathies are meant to switch from Spenser, who just wants to marry Lydia and be happy in conventional RC terms, to Erwin, who is having none of it.
The production, with a splendid cast, was remarkably polished on opening night. In Tandem Theatre is presenting the show at the nifty little 10th Street Theatre, where it will run through Saturday. Tickets are $10. Then it moves on to the Chicago Fringe Festival. I think it will be a hit there, just because it’s so damned funny. With a little tweaking, Haven might realize his ambitions beyond that.
For tickets and further information, click here.