#DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment Takes Comic Aim at Online Dating Culture
Robyn Lynne Norris's free-form satire makes its off-Broadway premiere at the Westside Theatre.
Take it from a veteran: Online dating suuuuucks. Sure, apps like OkCupid, Tinder, and Hinge cut down on the awkwardness that comes with approaching potential love interests in person and having to discern someone's singlehood in the first place. But putting aside the fact that even the most complex algorithm can't always predict in-person chemistry, forcing prospective daters to boil themselves down to a self-summary leads people to not only put across an idealized version of themselves for public consumption, but also encourages people to latch onto the most surface-level aspects to quickly determine whether someone's worth pursuing romantically. For women especially, online dating can even be dangerous, leaving them open to harassment or worse from toxic men who feel emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet.
And yet, online dating remains popular, thus making it a target ripe for satire. Enter #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment. Conceived by Robyn Lynne Norris, who cowrote the show with Bob Ladewig and Frank Caeti, and based in part on her own experiences, the work is basically an extended sketch-comedy show, featuring musical numbers, improvisatory segments with audience participation, and interactive elements (the show has its own OkCupid-like app that everyone is encouraged to download and create profiles on before the show). Instead of a plot, there's a character arc of sorts: Robyn (played in this off-Broadway premiere by Kaitlyn Black), finding herself forced to try OkCupid for the first time, decides to see what works best on the app by creating 38 fake profiles. If that seems overzealous, some of her rules — including never meeting any of the people she converses with online — suggest that this so-called experiment has been designed to fail from the outset. The cynicism and despair underlying Robyn's overelaborate ruse is occasionally acknowledged throughout the show, with bits of pathos relating to hints of a troubled romantic past and suggestions that she has trouble making deep connections with people in general peeking through the laughs.
For the most part, though, #DateMe is content to maintain a frothy tone while doling out its insights. Robyn's observations of seeing many of the same phrases and personality traits on profiles lead to faux-educational segments in which the rest of the eight-member cast, donning white lab coats (Vanessa Leuck designed the colorfully varied costumes), break people down into categories. Even the creepiest of messages Robyn receives on OkCupid are turned into cathartically amusing songs (written by Sam Davis, with lyrics by Norris, Caeti, Ladewig, and Amanda Blake Davis). And if anything, the two improvisatory segments — one in which the performers speculate on how a first date between two single audience members would go based on their profiles and responses to their questions, the other a dramatization of an audience member's worst first date — turn out to be the comic highlights of the show (or at least, they were at the performance I attended).
It certainly helps that the cast — which, in addition to Black, includes Chris Alvarado, Jonathan Gregg, Eric Lockley, Megan Sikora, Liz Wisan, Jillian Gottlieb, and Jonathan Wagner — are highly spirited and game. Lorin Latarro emphasizes a sense of playfulness in her direction and choreography, especially with a set, designed by David L. Arsenault, that mixes the aesthetic of living rooms and game shows; and projections by Sam Hains that infuse the show with the appropriate feeling of multimedia overload.
#DateMe is so entertaining in the moment that only afterward do you realize how superficial its view of online dating really is. For this viewer at least, it was disappointing to notice the show's blind spot when it comes to race and how discrimination still plays out on dating apps today. And on a broader level, the show fails to connect the rise of dating apps to the predominance of social media at large, encouraging a shift more toward instant gratification than in-depth connection. Like most of the first dates dating apps are likely to send you on, #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment offers a perfectly enjoyable time out without leaving you with much to remember after it's over.