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‘Play Dates’ is funny stuff

Hilarious look at love playing at the REP through Sept. 1

Posted: August 24, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2012 6:00 a.m.

From left, Ryan Calberg as Sam, Katie Hall as Stacey, and Dennis Hadley as Timmy on the playground bench at lunchtime in "Play Dates," which continues at the Repertory East Playhouse through Sept. 1.

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You know you’ve done it. At least once in your life, and hopefully only in early grade school, you slipped someone of romantic interest one of those notes with a heart on it that read, “Will you be my girlfriend (or boyfriend)?” and had two check boxes, one for “Yes” and one for “No.” And if your intended filled in her or his own box with “Maybe,” well, it was just maddening.

Consequently, “Play Dates,” which opened at the Repertory East Playhouse last Friday night, had me from my first look at the program, upon which just such a heart, with a “Maybe” box checked, was prominently presented.

And when the play opened, with two “5-year-olds” stressing over relationships like adults, well, it had me nearly rolling in the aisle.

This play is fuuunny, friends — in that painful, edgy, politically incorrect way that I love so well. This is adult humor, and though things only occasionally fall into the crude, I suggest you do not bring the kids, or anyone too tightly strapped.

I hereby warn you that you will see yourself in some, if not most, of the situations, so you’d better be prepared to laugh at your own pain.

The synopsis puts it more or less thusly: “‘Play Dates’ is all about love, falling in, falling out and everything in between. From the childhood innocence of your first everlasting crush, to the tortuous single years when you think you’ll never find anybody, to the challenge of trying to keep the spark alive after 10 years of marriage, it hilariously reminds us that love is never easy.”

The loosely arranged story “follows” Sam and Stacey from that first crush on the kindergarten playground, through some funny twists and turns together and apart. And when apart in young adulthood, Sam becomes the TV relationship guru, Dr. Love, advising from his Stacey-jaded point of view.

Along the way we meet a 10-years-married couple, Mike and Katie, struggling to keep the romance in their relationship. From a ridiculous bathroom ballet, to mouth guard loving, to a botched attempt at a three-way, these two bring the house down.

Director Michael C. Kelly said the play is basically extended sketch comedy, in the vein of “Saturday Night Live” and “MADtv,” which, considering his extensive career in television (including sitcoms), was right up his alley. And being able to direct the play right here in his home town was an additional plus.

He said he added his own stage direction, based on what the actors were doing. “I let the actors and the words take things where they want to, so it’s a great creative process,” he said. “These seven actors pushed the envelope and coalesced into a great little theater group. I’m very proud of them. Their characters were real genius.”

I heartily agree.

Supported excellently by Kyra Schwartz, Dennis Hadley and Dan Fowble, who each play multiple minor characters, the leads are Ryan Calberg as Sam and Katie Hall as Stacey — with a second act takeover by Wes Murphy as Mike and Heidi Appe as Katie.

Calberg and Hall work magic as 5-year-olds analyzing their relationship like adults. This juxtaposition alone is funny, but their talents make it work seamlessly. And, later, as adults, they take on whole new personas that are striking in contrast. Very well done, and funny.

Murphy and Appe benefit from well-written scenes that mine the humor intrinsic to the interactions of “old married couples.” However, their talents, as well, frost this cake of crazy. Absolutely hilarious.

So, if you appreciate the kind of “funny” that is prompted by pain and pushes past PC, I would venture to say that “Play Dates” is an absolute must-see.

“Play Dates” will run through Sept. 1. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $17 for students and seniors. Group rates are available. Advance reservations are highly recommended. For tickets, purchase online at www.repeastplayhouse.org or call 661-288-0000. “Play Dates” contains material that may not be suitable for younger audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.

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