by Jake Lipman · August 17, 2015
The title of romantic comedy Swipe Right by Allison Young refers to the dating app Tinder. Daters pick matches based on a single photo: like what you see and swipe right, or for the less desirable, swipe left, and on you go to the next option.
The young, energetic cast of the FringeNYC production is easy on the eyes, but struggled to forge believable connections, inhibited by inconsistent use of narrative devices.
The story is set over the course of a single evening in a bar in NYC, staffed by wannabe actor John (Andre Pizarro) and lesbian waitress Joey (the appealing Aly Pentangelo). Their regular, major cad Brad (Franck Juste) informs them that he has lined up four dates online, all of whom will be meeting him at their bar. Throughout the telling, a character called The Narrator (Saer Karim) opines on Brad’s plan.
Unfortunately, I missed the entire opening speech by The Narrator, drowned out by a loud fan at the back of the house. Judging by his winks and gestures to the script, I think he gave a legal disclaimer about the play referencing a specific dating app. Despite moving from the third row to the first row less than three minutes in, I strained to hear a lot of what he had to say throughout, making me question the true need for any kind of narration in the piece.
Fortunately, a few committed performances help push the plot forward, most notably the fully engaged Franck Juste as Brad, owning his D-bag ways with a toothy grin, muscular fist bumps and unabashed bragging. The Narrator lets us know no one should like Brad, but Juste is in on the joke, and that makes his clueless banter oddly likable.
As one of Brad’s four prospective dates, Sara Kohler ably commanded the stage, teasing the bartender, humming the song “Tequila,” when she wanted a refill, and dead-panning her jokes.
Likewise, Aly Pentangelo’s winsome waitress, Joey, seemed determined to keep the energy up, at one point lapping the stage to great comedic effect.
I wanted all these characters to find love (or at least lust!) in the course of their forty-five minutes onstage, but whenever chemistry or conflict seemed to build between two people, the playwright inserted The Narrator to tell us what they were feeling, or, even worse, literally pausing the action with a loud whistle. Equally frustrating was a staging choice which pulled focus: for a sizeable chunk of the performance, the characters of Joey and The Narrator were plopped on a bench downstage left, while Brad’s next failed date played out behind them.
While I am a big fan of no-frills productions, there is a difference between Spartan and a complete absence of production design (no designers were credited in the playbill). For Christine Penski, in the multi-track role of Brad’s three other dates, a lack of costume changes made it hard to distinguish between each new woman she played. As the sweet bartender, Andre Pizarro seemed stuck upstage behind his bar, with little to do but to put on hat and pour drinks.
Most puzzling of all was the only sound cue, trumpeting the theme song from the TV show Cheers. Heartfelt and romantic, the song reminds us that we want to “be where people see/ their troubles are all the same/ You want to go where/ every body knows your name.” For a show skewering modern dating protocols, these lyrics seem woefully out of place.