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Dating Games

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Garth Wingfield's background in modern television comedy writing shows through in Dating Games, his new collection of one-scene plays at the Theatre Row Studio Theatre. As each play runs scarcely longer than 15 minutes, Wingfield knows he has to make his points quickly and then move on; and he hasn't forgotten to make his plays darn funny along the way.

He and director Laura Josepher are on precisely the same page, as Jospeher's staging of Dating Games approaches conducting, with intensely orchestrated fast and slow movements; her very musical work often seems like an extension of the script. Regardless, there's no time to waste: the audience can't revel in laughter for too long, as they run the risk of missing the next joke.

All of the plays aptly reflect the title, as the comedically gifted cast of four (Michael Anderson, Cynthia Babak, Eric Christie, and Karin Sibrava) variously configures itself to reflect the comic and often hostile realities of dating life, primarily in New York city. The characters' tactics suggest that each is fighting for his or her life, and maybe that's not far off; everyone is desperate to not be alone, yet each character has significant difficulty connecting with the others.

Anderson's character in "Daniel on a Thursday" tries to overcome his loneliness by constantly morphing himself into whatever may most appeal to the shy guy (Christie) who always sits at the bar on Thursday drinking Beck's. The lines of communication are blocked at first, but if each is willing, new possibilities may emerge. When Babak and Anderson meet in "Cha-Cha-Cha," the situations are similar, though these are two people that may have known each other twenty years ago. Finally connecting at their high school reunion, they discover that, even if they can't share love, there's plenty they can teach the other about how to accept and live life.

Sibrava must face some harsh truths of her own in the second of the evening's plays, "The Lunch Date," when, while sitting at a bar, she consults with her friend (Babak) about the angst-ridden first date she had with a woman after years in a relationship with a man. Sibrava's sense of longing and desire is palpable, her fear and embarrassment ideally matched by the astonishment and vicarious pleasure Babak derives from her woes. This play most strikingly displays Wingfield's knack for deriving character (and comedy) out of the banal speech patterns of the modern world.

Funnier still is "Mary Just Broke Up With This Guy" (great title) which finds Sibrava (as Mary) also attempting to readjust to single life after being in a long-term relationship. Shades of David Ives's Sure Thing, she presses a buzzer whenever her current date (well over a dozen, all brilliantly portrayed by Anderson) is not exactly to her liking. This allows Wingfield to subtly set up Mary's character in the background as someone who, herself, may be flawed, someone not open to any of the many possibilities in front of her. As the evening's first play, it promises a great deal of comedy and reflection to come, expectations which are almost all fulfilled.

The responsibility of the evening's final play, "Run," is likewise great, but it is only here that Dating Games disappoints. A story about two New Yorkers (Christie and Sibrava) bonding over their dogs in the park, it doesn't sum up the evening or present shocking new points of view that haven't been handled better elsewhere in the show. By the time "Run" makes its appearance, the audience has been trained to accept ever-increasing stakes and emotional challenges, and "Run," the most superficial of the plays, can't deliver.

But, while the evening ends on a bit of a down note, it's a minor blip on the radar screen; Dating Games has already proved an intelligent, thoughtful comedy. If it sometimes threatens to veer too far into sitcom territory, so be it: Josepher and the cast keep it theatrical, hip, and hilarious.

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Winged Angel Productions
Dating Games
Through June 22
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Theater Row Studio Theater, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Schedule and Tickets: Ticket Central at 212.279.4200