Play pokes fun at modern dating

Laura Hodos, Conor Walton, Roland Rusinek, Erica Lustig, Clay Cartland, Nick Duckart and Jessica Booth in Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre’s production of First Date. // Photo Courtesy Alberto Romeu.
Laura Hodos, Conor Walton, Roland Rusinek, Erica Lustig, Clay Cartland, Nick Duckart and Jessica Booth in Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre’s production of First Date. // Photo Courtesy Alberto Romeu.

Two polar opposites sit across from each other, the nagging voices of their family ringing in their minds, texts from friends checking in, and attempts at awkward small talk are made, despite the fact they have Google searched everything about the other: welcome to the modern dating world. “First Date” is a contemporary musical comedy that captures the standard blind date experience and opens Friday at the Actors’ Playhouse.

The date between Casey (Erica Lustig) and Aaron (Clay Cartland), is accompanied by the ensemble cast of five, who fill in the different characters from these two people’s lives, such as a nagging sister, an annoying best friend and a rude ex-boyfriend. The two characters also take turns voicing their inner monologues throughout the awkward experience.

“It doesn’t take itself seriously, it is exactly what it is, which is this first date and here’s this thing we do as human beings,” Lustig said. “Let’s comment on them and let’s laugh about it together.”

The journey begins when Aaron is set up on a blind date by a co-worker. He hasn’t dated in a while and finds his date is his polar opposite. Where he is more quite and intimidated by strong women, Casey is harsh and edgy, a role Lustig found challenging because it is different from her own personality.

“I like to say that she’s the girl I wish I was in high school, but I totally wasn’t,” she said. “She’s got all this confidence to her that makes her appear to be a super confident, super tough chick. Later on in the show, you see this is all just a front for the fact that she’s really scared of getting hurt.”

Cartland, however, found an easy transition into his role as Aaron. When the play was announced last March, he knew this was the part he wanted, and prepared by buying the soundtrack, searching for the script and practicing for the audition.

“For a part like this it was easy because I am so awkward and bad on dates,” he said. “So it just kind of translated over.”

The actors had plenty of personal experience to draw from when it came to awkward first date stories.

Cartland once met up with someone from a dating website for a blind date, and she “reeked of ferrets.” He asked if she was a veterinarian and it turns out she just had five pet ferrets who roamed the house.

He also once asked a girl who worked at his campus coffee shop out to a movie. For dinner he ordered a chopped chicken salad and a diet coke; she ordered chicken enchiladas and a Guinness and he quickly changed his order to match hers. He spent the rest of the night feeling sick with his stomach gurgling. He wanted to kiss her on the cheek goodnight and attempted to distract her by asking “‘What’s over there?” but she turned around, saw him leaning in and screamed “No means no.” They did not have a second date.

Lustig is also hesitant about first dates because it is awkward walking into a place looking for a man she has never met before. During her last blind date, she found herself hoping the guy wouldn’t show up.

Before embarking on a date, she is sure to text her best friends and ask them to be on emergency watch in case she needs them to call her so she has an excuse to bail out, much like Casey does in the play.

Due to the adult nature of the humor and the way the show has been written, Lustig feels the show is “perfect” for a college audience.

“It’s like our lingo right now, I don’t even know how it’s going to translate in the future because it’s everything that applies right now to us,” she said.

Cartland agrees that the humor is tailored for college students and that they will find they can relate to the characters and themes of the show.

“This is one of those shows not geared toward 80-year-olds, which is rare,” he said. “When you watch it, there’s kind of these archetype characters and people say ‘Oh, that’s my gay best friend, oh that’s my douchebag boyfriend, oh that’s my sister, oh my ex spoke like that,’ so it’s a lot of archetypes that I think really apply to people under 30, so I really think they’ll get something out of it.”