Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
See how Portman is making her big splash in Israel and don't miss Paper Towns with Nat WolffGo To Pop Culture
August 7, 2013
Thou shalt not check the iPhone without first making a brief apology. Thou shalt not assume that he will pay the check. And under no circumstance shalt thou ever admit to her face that thou hast been stalking her on Facebook.
These days, we find ourselves caught in a flurry of new social mores around dating. It’s no one’s fault. The truth is that no one really knows what to do anymore. Yet, the penalty for pissing someone off remains as strict as ever. With so many fish in the sea, second chances are rare, and second dates are even harder to come by.
At first sight, the socially awkward Aaron (Zachary Levi, best known for his role on Chuck) approaches the tough, hip Casey (Krysta Rodriguez, best known for her role on Smash) for a hug. When she shies away, he tries a fist bump. Things don’t get much better from there. Casey lectures Aaron about her personal philosophy. He’s so nervous he can barely get a word out without apologizing. Before you know it, she’s called him for what he is—a “First Date Virgin,” and he’s put his foot in his mouth by calling her a “First Date S---.” You get the idea.
With all taboos broken early on, the conversation veers into those uncharted waters where few first dates venture—the Bermuda Triangle of Dating, if you will. Aaron is shocked to discover that his date is not Jewish; he had assumed she was. In one of the play’s most memorable moments, Aaron’s grandmother returns from the dead in her nightgown to waggle her finger at him for making such poor choices. “Oy! A Goy!” The next few minutes of singing and dancing are Broadway at its best, overflowing with singing and dancing and clever wordplay; a Fiddler on the Roof for the young, hipster set.
The patrons at the trendy restaurant don wide-brimmed hats and dance the horah, the waiter becomes a priest sprinkling holy water, and crosses and Stars of David drop from banners in spectacular confusion as Jews and Christians alike insist on the importance of tradition. The scene is smart and self-aware, a way of defusing worry and guilt with lightness and humor.
By externalizing conflicts in humorous song and dance numbers, the play assumes that the conflicts are somehow resolved. But, as anyone in a relationship can tell you, sometimes you have to actually talk things through. This lack of discussion about the meaning of difference in relationships, the failure to do more than merely portray people with different identities, comes off as a missed opportunity. Then again, perhaps those are conversations better left for a second date.
Mr. Levi brings plainspoken sincerity to what could have been a sentimental sob story about his dead mother—played, in a standout performance by Sara Chase, (also his dead grandmother). Like a toreador in tap shoes, Aaron banishes the traumatic memory of his ex-girlfriend (Sara Chase again) with a certain nerdy glee that rescues the scene from textbook misogyny. Ms. Rodriguez, while given a lot less to work with, (who would have guessed that the tough rebel chick only acts that way because deep down inside she is scared?), is a powerful, dynamic presence; she sings about her fear of commitment with surprising confidence.
And, just as Aaron must banish the horny bro voice in his head (played by Bryce Ryness, in full-on Ed Hardy mode) in order to get the girl, so Casey must banish the hypercritical voice of the feminine ideal, which berates her for not wanting to settle down and have kids at age 25.
Photos by Joan Marcus