Milton Bradley's old board game Mystery Date posed the eternal dilemma of the dating scene: "Will he be a dream ... or a dud?" The comedy Date at the Dad's Garage Top Shelf Theatre makes such a weak first impression that at first, you worry you're stuck with a dud for the evening. Once Date finds its comfort level, though, it turns out to be pretty dreamy.
Date puts its heart on its sleeve, as it were, by attempting to capture the search for love and romance without giving any spoken dialogue to its onstage actors (Chris Blair, Amber Nash, Katie Rowlett and Joe Sykes). The short comedy primarily follows the efforts of two lovelorn singletons, Tina (Nash) and Todd (Sykes), who put themselves "on the market" thanks to the goading of an unseen voice (Matt Myers). The narrator combines the aggressive cheer of a 1950s educational film with a harshly judgmental streak. Criticizing Tina's wardrobe, the voice remarks, "Why buy the cow when it's giving out milk like a whore?"
Initially, Date meanders through some sketchy sequences, such as a history of dating, starting with amoebae and cavemen, as well as a live game show that proves far too lengthy for its modest punch lines. Once Todd and Tina get past online match sites and speed dating, the play's wordless style and courtship content make a love connection. The concept works particularly well in the numerous sequences at clubs and singles bars, where people can barely hear each other anyway. Sometimes pop music makes a funny counterpoint to the action: At one bar, a guy (Blair) thinks he's scoring with two women when the Indigo Girls music should clue him into what's really going on.
Creator Tim Stoltenberg directed the show with Matt Horgan and wrote it with Horgan, Myers and the four-actor ensemble. Stoltenberg seems attracted to the "silent play" concept, having directed and co-written the similarly dialogue-free workplace comedy Get Downsized! in 2006. Date succeeds better, possibly because romantic awkwardness contains more complexity and emotional vulnerability than office dynamics.
The actors all take to the concept, capturing different facets of loneliness and lust, desperation and disgust, sometimes in a matter of seconds. Date doesn't qualify as a particularly deep show, but it finds plenty of laughs as the actors, particularly Nash and Sykes, convey some universal anxieties. The play may not be the best activity for a first date, though, as it gives away too much of what's already on your minds.
Date. Through Nov. 10. $13-$17. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Dad's Garage Top Shelf Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. 404-523-3141. www.dadsgarage.com.
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