REVIEW: Blind Date a good time with a ‘bad’ girl

So I go to the Citadel Theatre box office to pick up my reviewer’s ticket for Blind Date. The ladies give me my comp and slap a red wristband on me.

“The hell?!” I exclaim.

“Well, she pulls someone out of the audience and she doesn’t want to be picking media,” is their matter-of-fact answer. Great. I’m not in the theatre two seconds and I’m nailed in the crotch with a spoiler. Even worse: I’m such a loser that I’m rejected by women who’ve never met me just simply on principle.

Well, I needn’t have worried. “She” is Rebecca Northan, who plays Mimi, a woman with a thick French accent who is on a blind date. The problem is she has been stood up, which elicits an empathic, collective “Awwww!” from the audience.

“Please, no,” Mimi explains, “Other peoples’ pain is hilarious.”

Mimi adapts by plucking some Joe Schmo from the audience (on this night it was a high school principal) to complete the date. She has a taped-off area on the stage to explain – away from the action – the wants and needs of the story in particular, and women in general. Think of it as a dramaturgical penalty box. I know I’m not doing this justice: It has to be seen to be appreciated. Northan (a Second City alumna) is able to play this fourth wall-breaking device like a hillbilly with four generations of inbred pedigree plays a banjo.

At this point I’m assuming she is totally off script, assuming there was a script in the first place. Northan is as skilled an improviser as I’ve ever seen. Her ability to mine comic gold from the banality of life is uncanny, as she takes an hour and a half away from your inane existence and makes it seem like a short romp in the sack, leaving you gasping for breath and your face hurting – for all the right reasons, of course. Most of all, what makes Mimi so appealing and lovable is her wistful ebullience. (I know: I put the “moron” in “Oxymoron.”) While making chit-chat on the blind date, she will talk about losing her mother at an early age to cancer with a bathos that swings from poignancy to the downright goofy, like Tarzan on good acid.

The play does come with scenery changes as the date goes from restaurant to car ride to back to Mimi’s place for a little … well, let’s just say Mimi is not above being ribald. It’s at this point Mimi stops the show and gives the audience the choice of continuing the date, or flashing forward to five years in the future. Warning: If you vote for the former you will rob yourself of a howl-inducing, bladder-rupturing climax. I happened to catch up with Northan after the show and asked her if there ever was an audience dumb enough not to ask for the flash-forward.

“Just one,” was her wistful answer, before smiling and swinging on the vine, “But we gave them the flash-forward anyway!”

It was never explained why Mimi wears a clown nose throughout the play. Perhaps it explains being stood up: the date might have caught one glance from outside the window and fled for his life. His loss: The bulbous honker only augments Mimi’s terminal cuteness.

Go see Blind Date with a loved one this Valentine’s Day. Even with flowers and candy you could do worse – a LOT worse.

The show plays on the Rice stage through Feb. 19.