Encore Michigan

‘Looking’ explores blind-dating at A Wilde Theatre

Review March 07, 2022 David Kiley

BRIGHTON, Mich.–Ask most single people today about the dating scene, and they will talk about Match.com, Tinder, Hinge or Facebook Dating. The old fashioned way of meeting datable people at pubs, church, work or a club is as out of date as dial phones and an AOL email address.

In Norm Foster’s Looking, now playing at The Wilde Theatre here, Val (Sarah Burcon) and Andy (Tom Namovich) are meeting via “personal ad,” owing to the age of the play, but the premise and dynamic is the same. Val is an operating room nurse, an interesting person to be sure, but also divorced and date-weary. Andy is, to be kind, an absolute stiff with a sketchy-working flip phone who owns an unsuccessful storage facility. Each brings their best-friend to the first date.

It is at the get-go that Foster’s script hops the rails for me. One wonders if he has ever been in the situation of personal-ad or online dating. Nobody brings their best friends to their first date. I have heard of the “rescue phone call” 15 minutes in to a first date, and even women who might have a friend on the premises at another table at a pub or coffeeshop as backup, but even that is rare. Not surprising for anyone who has seen When Harry Met Sally, where Foster seems to have borrowed inspiration, the two friends, Nina (Laura Mandernack) and Matt (Kevin Rogers) get together and hook up while Val and Andy struggle to connect. Nina is a cop who listens to the local easy listening jazz radio station where Matt is the morning DJ.

Norm Foster is the most produced Canadian playwright, and is sometimes (cringe) referred to as the Canadian Neil Simon. Not so fast. While Simon had a handful of duds among his plays and screenplays (California Suite and The Odd Couple II), he was a master of dialogue and storytelling. Foster had some early successes in Canada with fast-food level plays that do not challenge anyone to think, and his reputation was made among patrons and theaters who want to fill seats with lowest-common-denominator humor that practically begs for a laugh track. He is a terrible writer of dialogue and his plays lack the polish and sophistication of Simon. There are no Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues or Barefoot In The Park in the Foster canon. He is also often referred to as “prolific” as he has penned some 65 plays. It’s easy to be prolific when your brand means you don’t need an editor to sell a play. I’d say Foster is more the Dan Goggin (Nunsense Boulevard and Mashuganuns) of Canada than sullying the name of the late Neil Simon.

Ms. Burcon and Ms. Mandermack do a lot of quality heavy lifting to keep this mess of a script on track. Mr. Namovich plays Andy as a smirking wooden statue, which I am hoping was a choice he and the director made. As the “story” unfolds, his Andy character’s undertaker personality keeps cracking like lake ice in late March as he shows some traces of good-heartedness, a process that Val comes to judge as more appealing that she did at the beginning of the play. Mr. Rogers’ Matt is the one with more of one-of-the-guys personalities, but one starts to wonder why he and Andy are actually best friends with so little in common. Oscar and Felix in Simon’s The Odd Couple were very different personalities, but complemented each other as they were connected by their recent divorces, poker and genuine love for one another. None of this is really explored, which I wouldn’t mind so much if the play snapped along at 80 or 90 minutes–which it would be if Foster had an editor–rather than the 2 hours and 15 minutes it clocked in at.

The Sunday matinee was chocked full of people laughing (and crinkling their potato chip bags), so Mr. Foster’s reputation for writing sit-com level dialogue is very much in tact. And for those who want some easy yucks, Looking runs through March 13 at A Wilde Theatre’s newly opened space. Get tickets at A Wilde Theater’s website.

Kudos to Lynn Wilde and A Wilde Theatre for bringing live theatre to another town in our market.

Week of 8/15/2022

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