Much of No Rule Theatre’s The Personals plays out like a twisted Match.com ad. An early 40-something woman seeks a sweet and honest man. A serious reporter searches for, “an aggressive woman.” Blind man hopes to find a sighted mate. These are not the serendipitous perfect matches portrayed in those online dating commercials. That’s because the dates are part of an on-going role-playing game between a husband and wife who are hoping to repair their broken marriage.
Unable to pick up the pieces after a tragic accident, Don and Janna (Michael Kramer and Anne Kanengeiser) attempt to rekindle their lost love through their fake blind dates. The two go on dates set-up through personal ads in the newspaper. Taking on characters dictated in the personal ads, the two meet in the after hours of the bar where Don serves as both owner and headline entertainer.
The premise equates into a multitude of roles for Kramer and Kanengeiser, who both provide subtle hints of chemistry through their false personas that illustrates the love that once existed in the now vacant marriage. There are quite a few humorous moments, especially through Don’s cheesy magic act, but don’t mistake this for a stage version of Fifty First Dates. The mood is gloomy, a thick fog that separates a husband and wife who hope to find their way by pretending to be somebody else.
The play is based upon films by Stanley Tucci and Theo Van Gogh and sees its world premiere at No Rules after being adapted by Producing Artistic Director Brian Sutrow. After watching Tucci’s version on Netflix, Sutrow sought Tucci out in order to get his blessing to produce a stage version of the film.
Sutrow and director Josh Hecht keeps most of the film’s narrative intact in this stage adaptation. From clips of the film versions, one can see that the material was a prime candidate for stage adaptation. The action focuses solely on Don and Janna, a lone bartender (Spencer Trinwith) rounds out the cast. The claustrophobic feel of the films translates well on stage, the Don and Janna share dates inside an empty bar but the audience can feel the walls closing in on them as they struggle to work out their issues.
The play keeps the action moving well through the many dates. Much like the films, only so much is revealed about the couple through the dates and in Sutrow’s adaptation the audience is kept even more in the dark which makes the piece all the more gripping.
There are no happy endings in this tale but with Sutow’s re-visioning things don’t end as gruesome as Tucci and Van Gogh had envisioned. While there is an appearance of growth between Don and Janna, in the end of this dark drama it is just an illusion like the acts of magic illustrated on the walls of Don’s bar.