By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Anyone unalterably convinced that a life of celibacy is much to be preferred to a blind date with a stranger should probably avoid Lost Lemoine Part 2: A Second Round of Seconds at all costs.
On the other hand, awkwardness, other people’s that is, is a great source of gruesome hilarity. And A Second Round of Seconds, the second of the three Teatro La Quindicina streaming productions in their 2021 season, is dating gone hilariously wrong, fast, in an intricate structure of speedy meet-and-greets, one on one. It’s a veritable comedy mini-series in under an hour.
“At Teatro we pogo,” explained playwright Stewart Lemoine, interviewed on the Varscona stage Friday by the company’s co-artistic producers Belinda Cornish (the director of the piece) and Andrew MacDonald-Smith at the big-screen launch of the filmed production designed for domestic consumption. This is as good a description of the structure and pace of the piece as you can get.
Originally written for Teatro’s adjunct company of “lawyers by day actors by night” (The Novus Players) in 2016, A Second Round of Seconds is “speed dating with a difference!.”
That’s what Milo (Josh Travnik), the unsquelchably perky “founder and CEO” of Sudden Sparks, tells the three women and three men who have showed up for a “superior” life-changing experience. “Predictability is a no-no!” beams this corporate existentialist, explaining the rules of “a series of brief encounters” (later “a roundelay of romance”) designed as “an extension of life itself!”
What could go wrong?
Behind the red velvet theatre curtain on the screen that’s behind the identical red velvet curtain on the Varscona stage, the line-up of three yellow doors (design: Chantel Fortin) is a tip-off. They are the world-wide theatrical signal for farce. Behind those mystery doors three women will wait, in a cafe, a salon, a bar, for a stranger to enter, for a rendezvous of unpredictable duration (and a variety of drinks) that ends with a bell, two actually, and an exit.
Ask not for whom the bells toll … I am not giving anything away to reveal that this always happens at the most awkward moment. As people at bus stops or in elevators have always known, time with strangers is invariably either way too long or way too short. You’re either stranded on the silent shoals of eternity awaiting rescue, or you’re left hanging with a pocketful of unanswered questions and unsaid zingers,
And the permutations prescribed by Sudden Sparks mean that the most awkward encounters get a round #2, which amplifies the instant incompatibilities of round one. That’s how comic mayhem grows, and in A Second Round of Seconds it’s at a farcical pace.
As Cornish’s production reveals, and delightfully, this speed-up concept is a playground for the specific choices, physical inventions, and uncanny timing of eight very skilled comic actors. Strangers when we meet them, we, along with their partners of the moment, learn things about them, fast. Or in the case of the relentlessly grim-visaged Sylvia (Jocelyn Ahlf), we don’t learn things, fast. “I’m going to level with you …” she eventually reluctantly tells her unlucky speed-date partners, who naturally wonder what on earth she’d doing at Sudden Sparks. Then, always, inevitably, before her answer … a bell.
To see Andrea House’s Janice, mysteriously flirtatious in a prim, bowed, white blouse, attempt to arrange herself seductively on a couch is to see an expert at work. She puts the physical comedy back into what would online be the arid theoretical reaches of social media self-profiling. And she is very funny.
I laughed out loud to see Jesse Gervais entering the room — can you enter a room ‘heartily’? — declaring himself a banker. Ditto Mark Meer in rabbity mode, with an apologetic ponytail, being tentative about everything in his initial encounter with Leslie. As the latter, Helen Belay is the straight-person, the foil to the oddities around her, scrambling to smooth things over, find commonalities, and move them along. “My sister is a dentist,” she gamely tells a dental supplies salesman, quickly followed by a look that says she knows she’s just pushed herself into a conversational sinkhole.
Oscar Derkx is amusing too, as a pleasant guy confronted by the implacable Sylvia and hoping for a breakthrough in that human fortress. “May I join you?” he says politely, meeting wth a stony gaze. “You can try,” she says.
Cornish has devised a speed dating pace that’s both spontaneous and arranged, frantic and full of agonizing (or appalled, or panicky) silences. And it’s calibrated for the escalating modifications in Lemoinian rejoinders, witty and/or laconic, that booze, hot wings, and revelations, bring on in rounds 2 and 3.
Kudos to Gianna Vacirca, who makes the tiny role of Crystal, the smiling server of drinks and non-sequiturs, something funny too. Life is mysteriously amusing, my friends. And so is the human pageant, especially when it’s arranged sequentially. People are all strangers — until they’re not.
Pour yourself a drink, and watch at home, through Oct. 31. Streaming passes: teatroq.com.