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The Dating Game

September 18, 2008

The Climate Theater in San Francisco seems to have created a niche for itself as the place to go to experience popular TV and Web-based entertainment on stage.

Just under a year ago, I blogged about YouTubed, the Climate's whacky and wonderful series of live skits based on people's favorite You Tube videos.

I'd heard about the Climate's intermittent stagings of the old ABC television seriesThe Dating Game soirees a while ago and thought they'd probably be more embarrassing than make for interesting theatre. But having experienced the live stage version at the Climate last weekend, I've changed my mind: The Dating Game is my new guilty theatrical pleasure.

The formula and set-up for the Climate's version of the Game is very similar to how it works on TV, albeit in a no-frills, lo-fi version. A tatty curtain separates two halves of the Climate's tiny stage. On one side of the curtain sit three eligible bachelors; on the other, a keen bachelorette. The bachelorette asks a series of questions of the bachelors and eventually picks one of them with whom to go on a date. The whole thing is masterminded by an effervescent MC.

The Climate's version of the Game is so much more compelling than the TV version because it amplifies the ridiculous and the dramatic.

For one thing, the contestants put on really strong personas. The night I saw the show, one bachelor (Bachelor Number 3) acted completely bored throughout the entire production. He sat on stage with his shot of whiskey (another thing you could never do on TV) and stared blankly upwards as if the answers to the questions were somehow inscribed on the lighting grid. But having an incredible natural flair for comedy, he managed to come up with the most brilliant off-the-cuff answers to the bachelorette's questions -- unlike the TV show, the contestants require genuine improvisation skills. For example, when asked "If you were to make a perfume for me, what would be the main ingredient?" Bachelor Number 3 responded "Bachelor Number 1" without skipping a beat. The audience fell in love with all the contestants that night, but unsurprisingly, Bachelor Number 3 was the winner.

For another, audience participation is so energetic that it borders on frenzy. People yell at the stage and laugh and become completely involved in what's going on. It's rare to see such complete investment in an audience for a TV show without the aid of production assistants telling people to clap and laugh on cue. And theatre audiences aren't generally known for making noise beyond forgetting to turn off their cellphones, coughing and unwrapping candies.

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun. The pleasure came from the sheer bombast of it all.Theatre and mass culture can exist in wonderful symbiosis, especially when the theatre takes pop products, exaggerates them, spins them around and turns them on their heads.

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