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Famous Door's Dating Game: Uncensored

Famous Door Theatre Company

How to Meet Girls

Zebra Crossing Theatre

I'm not convinced that game-show hosts are fully human. They never seem to come from anywhere in particular, except maybe other game shows, materializing before us like highly advanced alien life forms (it's not a strain to imagine wires popping out of the back of Wink Martindale's head). And with few exceptions they seem perfectly ahistorical creatures, hermetically sealed within a timeless world of sparkling oversize set pieces, invisible soundproof booths, and unmanageable screaming idiots. Their world is unaffected by even the most monumental of social or political upheavals; time has meaning only in 30-second increments during the speed round.

Jim Lange, host of The Dating Game, was the game-show host's game-show host. Poised and unfailingly vacant, Lange combined the animatronic slickness of the Hall of Presidents with the mesmerizing appeal of the reptile house. And he knew when to get out of the way. We didn't necessarily tune in to listen to his patter or gawk at his magnificently lapelled velvet jackets--though such gawking was a delightful perk. Like most Americans spellbound before the televised public spectacle, we tuned in to watch people make fools of themselves and to congratulate ourselves on our own better judgment.

Will Casey, host of Famous Door's Dating Game: Uncensored, has clearly learned his lesson from Lange. Casey may be undeniably human, even genuinely clever and spontaneous, possessing one thing few real game-show hosts have: talent. But he does know when to get out of the way, which in this production is nearly all the time. Famous Door has done such a good job of selecting its contestants from real-life applicants that Casey and bombshell hostess Christa Trinler are almost unnecessary.

While it looks as if Famous Door spent about seven dollars on this production, they have deftly re-created the look and feel of the original television show, from Herb Alpert's bouncy theme music to the omnipresent six-petaled, super-groovy star bursts decorating the set. Just like on TV, the contestants are perched atop high stools and lurk in semidarkness until called upon to introduce themselves, whereupon they're revealed in a heavenly wash of light. Famous Door even provides piped-in audience reactions and a flashing "applause" sign, lampooning the machinery used to convince a studio audience they're having a wonderful time.

The salacious hook for Famous Door's production is the lure of "uncensored" mating rituals. The press release promises "gay dates, lesbian dates, straight dates, bi dates, and any other lifestyle for which one contestant and three other consenting adults of the same sexual preference can be found." In contemporary Chicago theater, such pairings are about as scandalous as a pair of bloomers that expose a woman's ankles. What's genuinely uncensored about this Dating Game is that everyone, including the disembodied announcer, gets to talk dirty. Pitching K-Y jelly, one of the evening's sponsors, the announcer quips: "Don't stick it in until you slick it up with K-Y!"

The show's real strength, however, is the same as it was in the original: the voyeuristic thrill of watching strangers publicly negotiate date making while trying to avoid the nearly unavoidable snares of self-humiliation. Just imagine having to declare your love "as if you were Shakespeare" or enumerate the "dirty words you would never say" in front of a rowdy late-night audience. On the night I attended, most of the contestants got out with their self-esteem pretty much intact, at least as far as I could tell. Moreover, they were generally articulate, funny, and of course shameless--perfect for the prurient middle-class interest of the assembled audience. Since the air-conditioning was on the fritz, the least the contestants could do was titillate.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of Famous Door's Dating Game is the potential to subvert stereotypes. The show acknowledges that gay and straight relationships are equally valid; there's no dopey tittering about--oh my god!--bachelors dating bachelors! And on the night I saw the show, the straights proved that they, not the gays, were the sex-crazed maniacs (it must be a lifestyle thing). Typically the gay contestants employed wit and subtlety to entertain. "Bachelor number three, which celebrity does bachelor number two most closely resemble?" "Amy Carter." The straight contestants kept the focus squarely on their genitalia. "Bachelor number three, if you were a type of music, what type would you be?" "I'd be rap, because I'm hard." "Bachelorette number one, finish this sentence: You would never guess that I..." "Love to give blow jobs." I don't know why we let these people adopt.

This Dating Game aims to break the hypoallergenic seal around real game shows. Presenting gay and straight relationships on equal terms is something Love Connection could never risk. I can't even remember seeing an interracial date on that program. Wrapping gentle subversion in a giddily entertaining package, Famous Door shows just how engaging and human a piece of summer fluff can be.

Not all subversive summer fluff can make such a claim, unfortunately. Kathie Bergquist's How to Meet Girls, a "virtual reality tech-drama call-in show" about lesbian dating, is as forced and lifeless as Wink Martindale's smile.

Hosted by butch dyke Flick and lipstick lesbian Fauna, this 90-minute jumble of half-formed comedy sketches barely makes it to the finish line. Ten minutes of promising material--most notably a send-up of love guru Joann Loulan explaining the difference between femme and butch--is buried under endless stammering, fumbling, and mugging. Half the time it seems as if the humor has been purposely siphoned off, leaving purely pedestrian conversation. When one caller laments that her ex-girlfriend won't return her vibrator, for example, Fauna pulls a big face and suggests, "Go buy another one!" To which the caller replies, "They're expensive!" Ba dum bum.

Bergquist, best known for her weekly column in Nightlines, seems lost when it comes to shaping a scene, crafting dialogue, or creating a character. Nearly every one of the two dozen skits fizzles into awkward silence, the kind that would compel actual radio listeners to switch stations.

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