Speed-Dating, Flirtation and a Bit of Fantasy at NJ Rep

March 14, 2014
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By Philip Dorian

There’s a funny bit at the start of “Date of a Lifetime,” when Jamie LaVerdiere and Trisha Rapier, who comprise the entire cast, poke fun at people who attend speed-dating events.

Among the “litany of bad types or just freakin’ nuts” are a woman who obsesses about her five cats and a man who’s looking for a skinny date to balance his water bed.

Then there are the slightly more normal lonely-hearts portrayed by Mr. LaVerdiere and Ms. Rapier. Nos. 33 and 16 respectively at Rotate-A-Date on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Marvin and Katie have issues of their own, which are played out in Carl Kissin (book and lyrics) and Robert Baumgartner’s (music) clever new musical at New Jersey Repertory Company.

The two spot each other across the stage (a la Tony and Maria) and symbolically fit their tabletops together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Their mutual flirtation is followed by an exchange of imagined lifelong scenarios that fill the next 90 minutes, which is about 82 minutes longer than a speed-date.

It’s also about 12 minutes longer than the play needs to be, but portions of the fantasies ring true. His projected dating scenario includes a 3-D movie, musing over a still life at MOMA and admiring the view from the High Line, all played amusingly on Jessica Parks’ spare set. In rapid succession, Marvin envisions them moving in together, marrying, raising a child and so much more (including some morbidity), that Katie’s similar setup comes off as anticlimactic, hardly the fault of either actor.

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Carrying half of a two-character play, no less a musical, is heavy lifting, and well-matched LaVerdiere and Rapier certainly work hard at it. Maybe too hard, as if, with director Marlo Hunter urging them on, they are compensating for the absence of a chorus line.

Musical director Daniel Rein provides expert accompaniment on one piano that really does compensate for the lack a larger ensemble. Most of the musical numbers lend themselves to frenetic vocal delivery, but the intimacy of the two-person situation and of the NJ Rep venue itself would benefit from some restraint. (A toned-down reprise of the raucous “Roller Coaster” number makes the point.)

After both Marvin and Katie have laid out their visions for the future, there’s a final scene that questions whether or not they’ll have a real date. Anyone who doubts how that will end up should stay home on a waterbed with five skinny cats.

“Date of a Lifetime,” through April 6 at New Jersey Rep, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Performances are: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Information and tickets ($42) at 732-229-3166 or online at www.njrep.com.       

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