Dating Games

The New York International Fringe Festival has many types of shows. There are solo shows written by and starring a person who's gone through hell and back. There are multimedia pieces that have the tendency to illuminate or enervate. Then there are the "hyped" shows, usually featuring a semi-celebrity in its cast or a pop culture reference in its title, or possessing some intangible quality that translates into an "it factor." Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies was one of the festival productions singled out by several publications as being a hot ticket. But unlike Silence! The Musical (based on a hit movie) or Bridezilla Strikes Back! (a one-woman show based on the writer/performer's experiences on the reality-TV series Bridezillas), which are also big sellers, Fluffy Bunnies has built its word-of-mouth solely on the success of its stage show in California. Besides a lot of sex talk, it is not as gimmicky as one would expect. In fact, writer/director Matt Chaffee has created a pleasant way for twenty- to thirtysomethings to spend 120 minutes at the theater.

The four main characters (Tommy, "Baby Boy," Nick, and "Re"/Jennifer) spend some of their time on abysmal dates and the rest of it recounting said dates over beers at the bar where Jennifer works. Chaffee has got around the "show, don't tell" problem with retelling events by showing the person on his date but having him turn around to comment to the other three at the same time.

Their problems are familiar but still amusing: Baby Boy (Samuel Bliss Cooper) doesn't like women with a past, Nick (Richard Gunn) is hung up on an ex who is clearly just interested in having a good time, and Tommy (Chaffee) and Jennifer (Jenna Mattison) bicker and counsel the other two rather than go on their own dates (or go out with each other).

Comedy ensues in the realistic, peppy banter among the four friends and in the characterizations of the dates. Baby Boy's first date, Yvonne, is lovely, strange, and not too bright, and freaks him out by moving too fast. (Sangini Majmudar does an excellent job playing the nuances of Yvonne's neuroticism and challenges the audience's sympathies with a sniffle or a well-timed crazy outburst.) Nick's obsession with Tessa is made all the more ridiculous by Jackie Freed's vacuous, sex-crazed (but believable) performance.

Though at times the foursome talks a bit too fast for informal conversation, they have a great ease with one another that really helps sell the show and their group relationship. Mattison's sassy girl-next-door, Chaffee's sarcastic Everyguy, Gunn's hunky but clueless romantic, and Cooper's insecure wannabe player represent the whirlwind that is modern dating, in all of its permutations.

Most important, the audience really got into it, with some members commenting that they'd seen the show several times. And isn't inspiring people to see some theater what the Fringe is all about?

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