January 9, 2015

Schadenfreude is perhaps a natural reaction to The Blind Date Project, an improvisational theater piece presented as part of this year’s Coil festival that allows you to be a voyeur at the first meeting between two strangers. Admit that there’s something sneakily appealing in the prospect of watching other people navigate the jittery horrors of that initial encounter, a grueling rite of passage pretty much everyone has endured, and often regretted. This clever show, created by the Australian actress Bojana Novakovic, who plays one-half of the couple at each performance, and Mark Winter, takes place in the back room of an actual bar, the funky Parkside Lounge, on the border between the East Village and the Lower East Side. (The Parkside is a presenter of the show, which is a production of the Ride On Theater company, co-founded by Ms. Novakovic.) The audience sits at tightly arranged cocktail tables — nice to know there are still $8 drinks available somewhere in Manhattan — and watches Ms. Novakovic and another performer enact the prickly ritual of the title at a small bar in the corner of the room. In an attempt to recreate at least some of the variables involved in an actual blind date, Ms. Novakovic apparently does not know which of the actors signed up to play her partner will be performing on any given night. (The participants include Pablo Schreiber, Laverne Cox, Reggie Watts and Anson Mount, among others.) On the night I saw the show, Frederick Weller (recently on Broadway in Mothers and Sons) darted into the bar with a bouquet of flowers — several minutes after Ms. Novakovic had arrived — brimming with apologies for being late. What unfolds each night is mostly improvised, although recourse will be made at some point to the karaoke machine that sits off to one side. (A blind date with the added anxiety of karaoke? Horrors.) At the performance I saw, the characters, Anna and Harry, moved from white wine (hers) and beer (his) to vodka as they bumped through eager but awkward early chatter (“I really liked your profile”). Each keeps a cellphone within easy reach, as if it were a child’s comforting toy, or maybe a weapon at the ready.