Written by Scotty Keister
(Spoiler alert : This review is full of Spoiler, you have been warned)
If online dating really went like this it might put the whole internet out of business. Comedy of <<ERROR>>, now in its world premiere at Vanguard University’s lovely Lyceum Theater, and produced by American Coast Theater Company, is a wild and wooly look at dishonesty and deception as played out on a particular dating site, Date Jane Eyre.com.
The idea is to put bookish folks together for romance. The site’s creator, Charles, is both the culprit behind a good deal of the malfeasance here and the romantic lead of the story. Charles is desperately trying to hook up his apparently one and only paying customer, Bill, before he quits and demands his money back, a sum of $800 which Charles happens to need desperately as a down payment for a honeymoon with his girlfriend Chloe, to whom he has not yet even proposed. Being that the engagement ring has been inadvertently locked in a kitchen safe by Chloe’s wacky brother Donald and cannot be extracted for a week, Charles has some nifty romance-spinning to do in order to keep alive his hopes of a successful proposal. Yeah, it all seems pretty convoluted and far-fetched. The basic idea that a dating site can exist with only one paying customer is crazy enough, but what follows is even crazier.
Charles has created a fake female profile, using Chloe’s photos, to suck Bill in and keep his money invested. Dastardly, eh? Donald certainly thinks so, yet Charles’ desperation manages to keep Donald silent. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Charles actually convinces Chloe to go on a date with Bill so that he won’t bail and she agrees, reluctantly. It seems that Chloe is so desperate to get married that she is willing to help Charles save his business if it means he’ll ultimately propose to her. Not sure what a feminist would make of this, but I was a little bit agog. So when Bill turns up for the date, with Charles lurking in the kitchen to spy, he turns out to not be the slovenly, overweight, sexist, lover of mice that his online profile portrays, but actually a handsome, forward-thinking, feminist kind of dude who Chloe is clearly attracted to. Now Charles is even more desperate.
The show moves a little slowly, with everyone’s performance pretty over the top in a TV sitcom kind of way. It reminded me most of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; dumb people acting ridiculous. The show could have done with a little more underplaying, because what follows is so wild and over the top there’s almost nowhere to go. It’s all pretty hair-brained and parts of it are flat-out illogical, but the game cast keeps the comic energy up and the second half of the show actually takes off once the identity switches become more and more complicated. It gets to be like putting together a crazy puzzle where the pieces keep changing.
Here’s the catch. As played by the shows’ author, Rene Scheys, Charles is not especially likable. He’s like a Woody Allen on steroids, constantly nervous, agitated and abrasive. Not to mention conniving and dishonest. So why does the audience care whether or not his plan succeeds? More interesting is Charles’ buddy—Chloe’s brother—Donald, played by Matt Takahashi. He is little more than dumb guy comedy fodder until the second half of the show when he agrees to show up for a second date with Bill pretending to be the “real” Chloe—by going in drag, and to a biker bar, no less. Takahashi here is comic genius. He hits all the right notes and however over-the-top it is, it fits perfectly. His performance easily steals the show.
In a typically madcap final scene, all the players end up in the same place and everyone is forced to explain all their hoodwinks and cover-ups, yet somehow after all this, Chloe still accepts Charles’ proposal, which is probably the most preposterous moment of the whole show. Still, if you accept the premise, you sort of have to go along with this too. There are a good deal of funny moments in the play and some fine acting. Jeff Kieviet as the Handsome Man (Bill’s stand-in) hands in a funny low-key performance. Ashley Arlene Nelson has some really good moments as Charles’ coffee shop work buddy. Laura M. Hathaway works hard to make Chloe as sincere as possible, but it’s a role that’s ultimately hard to believe. Brock Powell as Bill has some funny bits as well.
The show is directed by James and Christi McHale with never-flagging energy. They manage to keep all the story threads clear throughout—no mean feat. Though the plotting is quite clever, even when it strains credibility, most of the logic problems are worked out by the show’s end. The central problem is still Charles, who seems more motivated by money than love. In what is essentially a romantic comedy, that spells trouble. He never directly takes any action to win Chloe. Instead he keeps convincing others to help him as he gets in deeper with lies. Now, if Charles had taken up the challenge to go on the date with Bill in drag himself that would have been one hell of a noble sacrifice, worthy of love. Fortunately, the characters surrounding him generate enough good will to keep the show moving in the right direction.
Comedy of <<ERROR>> has been in workshop for three years now and probably could still use a few more tweaks, but this staging at the Lyceum at Vanguard is a solid step in the right direction. The show runs Friday-Sunday, through June 14. A word of warning: the theater is not easy to find within the Vanguard campus. Don’t follow the directions to the 55 Fair Dr. address. Instead, look for the small sign on Newport Blvd for the entrance to the Lyceum, the second driveway heading west, past Fair Dr.
Vanguard University 55 Fair DriveCosta Mesa, CA 92626
May 29 – June 14