Whackadoo Love: ‘Check, Please’ succeeds in a night of light-hearted entertainment

Jan 21 • ARTSY SMARTSY, TheaterNo Comments on Whackadoo Love: ‘Check, Please’ succeeds in a night of light-hearted entertainment

Pulling at the Heart Strings:  Arianna Tysinger and Nick Reed on a first date in ‘Check, Please.’ Courtesy of Zach Hanner

Pulling at the Heart Strings: Arianna Tysinger and Nick Reed on a first date in ‘Check, Please.’ Courtesy of Zach Hanner

TheatreNOW’s first production of the year touts that crazy little thing we all face at some time or another in life: love. With its ups comes its downs—and, especially in its throes, we may not see the purpose of its frenzied journey. In the end, once we find love in its truest fashion, the grip can put a tight hold on kinship and a more meaningful existence. But getting there … well, that’s a different story altogether.

Jonathan Rand focuses on the in-betweens of finding love in his original series of vignettes, “Check, Please.” The show follows a girl (Marietta Braye) and a guy (Nick Reed) as they endure online dating, and its intense and often ridiculous outcomes. Written to make the audience voyeurs in the meet-and-greet introductions of the dating world, Braye and Reed are perfectly cleansed sponges to soak in the varied personalities of their fellow cast mates—Reid Clark, Caylan McKay, Ashley Stowe and Arriana Tysinger. The lead guy and gal maintain their even-kiel openness toward life, willing to give people chances to find their matches. The secondary players are what makes the show shine, as they take on everything from the couple’s close friends to many whackadoo suitors.

One of my favorite scenes is Reed’s date with Internet emoticon girl played by Stowe. Stower’s egregious excitement to butcher the English language and only communicate in abbreviated letter-speak—”OMG, YOLO, WTF”—is a telling reminder of what today’s exchanges are evolving into. Also, she pumps out a heavy dose of completely believable kookiness, not only speaking in text but also acting out the famed emojis to express her feelings. She’s that “surface-level girl,” only living by what’s trending. This vignette could be fleshed out into a full-throttle social commentary in its own right, especially with Reed’s perplexity and true-to-form confusion which hits home most.

Arianna Tysinger’s mime scene also doles out a lovely interlude of quirkiness. Her silence is only amplified by motion, as she ropes herself to Reed only to end up trapped inside a glass box all the way through the next scene. In opposite disposition comes Tysinger’s verbose and delirious multiple-personality-disorder gal. Her ability to interchange between an orangutan, a redneck and a hi-falutin’ wannabe, all in a matter of seconds, will command attention. Perhaps the best part of these scenes particularly comes in Reed’s dry, deadpan reactions, which balance the energy but fuel the laughter even more.

Local comedian Reid Clark soars as extreme guy Dewey, also known as “Dewey DoRag” or “Dewey Decimal.” While one would think he’d be into fly-skiing or fly-boarding, actually he’s that guy who turns the everyday necessities of life—i.e. walking and reading—into exaggerations. That he’s an accountant makes the notion all the more preposterous, but watching Clark showcase far-out actions in the most mundane of activities truly delights. He animates with intensity yet offers a seriousness that’s downright respectable. This by far is the best sketch of the show.
Caylan McKay brings the most outrageous characters to the mix, between his pirate looking for a first mate, to a Latino lover, overly indulging in everything woman. McKay’s “phobia guy” gets acted out perfectly. Still, the writing runs too parallel to a Charlie Brown cartoon to be original. McKay’s shining moment comes in his “method actor” scene. His wooing skills are great, and his big reveal really drives home the point that there are quite a few oddballs—and narcissistic A-holes—in the dating pool to choose from.

For the most part, Reed and Braye’s characters serve as a blank slate for the melange of personalities they must interact with; the two “leads” are the common thread throughout the show. Aside from the occasional reactionary cues, as well as revealing themselves in their dating profiles, which are screened as a backdrop onstage, their “love connection” isn’t laden with oozing chemistry. Yet, the two manage a few stand-out moments. Braye’s “serial wives” scene with Clark offers her a chance to delve a little further into her thespian tool belt, while Reed’s date with a psychic takes him a step into the physical-comedy realm. The audience can see each of them pushed beyond their dulled-down reticence and calm demeanor.

The use of multi-media in the show really highlights the 21st century era of dating, with video profiles showcasing singletons’ lifetsyles—whether they’re concentrated on a dog or cat or simply stating a slew of boring, expected responses, like, “I’m just looking for someone fun.” While the idea for this show has enough inspiration to bank its interest, its execution on some level feels as rudimentary as those predictable profiles on Match.com. I love the premise, but sometimes it all comes across too cheesy and expected. When it does commit to the truly bizarre yet believable people (extreme guy, method actor, Internet emoticon girl), “Check, Please” works.

In the end, it’s an evening of light-hearted entertainment, offered through over-the-top scenarios, which will have audiences laughing mostly. Its cast fluidly moves through different roles at break-neck speed, and that alone will provide a level of applaudable creativity. I would imagine for any actor, the challenge is a fun one.

Dinner comes with all the shows at TheatreNOW, unless one purchases a show-only ticket. TheatreNOW’s chef, Denise Gordon, has taken on a few nods of recognition for her cuisine, including at August’s Epicurean Evening fund-raiser. For “Check, Please,” a simple three-course menu comes with a flavorful if not watery potato soup, perfectly cooked rice pilaf over a roasted (albeit dry) chicken (though, vegetarians can opt for a lasagne), and a sweet but dense pineapple upside-down cake. Perhaps the most delicious part comes in the fun-named cocktails offered during its run, such as “Between the Sheets” and “Royal Screw Up.”

Check, Please
★ ★ ★ (out of 5)
Fri. – Sat. through Feb. 15th, 6 p.m., doors
Tickets: $18, show only; $28 w/three-course dinner and show
Valentine’s Day extended tasting menu, $45/indv. or $80/couple; two seatings, 6 p.m. or 8 p.m.
TheatreNOW, 19 S. 10th St.

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