Volume 75, Number 31 | December 21 - 27, 2005

Theater

Five Course Love
Through January 29th, 2006
Minetta Lane Theater
18 Minetta Lane
212-420-8000

Photo by Richard Termine.

Heather Ayers, Jeff Gurner and John Bolton star in the new musical “Five Course Love” written and composed by Gregg Coffin.

A feast of bad dates

By Rachel Breitman

In the opening scene of Gregg Coffin’s madcap musical “Five Course Love,” Matt, John Bolton’s nerdy blind dating alter ego, looks like he is about to get lucky. Within minutes of meeting Matt, Barbie, the Southern belle who has been paired with him via a dating service, she seems ready to jump his bones.

But as William Shakespeare promised, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” No sooner has Barbie propositioned him, suggesting they skip their meal at the country-western themed restaurant and head straight to bed, than she learns that there has been a huge mistake — her real date, aptly named Ken, is waiting for her at another table. Matt, whose date has stood him up, leaves the restaurant alone.

The song-filled dating comedy originated at the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York, and ran in the Sacramento Theatre Company in California, before opening at the Minetta Lane Theater in October. Though the five, far-fetched dating scenarios take place in such far-flung venues as a German eatery, a Mexican cantina, and the retro Starlight Diner, the cast of three, who play all 15 characters, admitted that some of the show’s unlikely parings and thwarted love connections related to their own dating blunders and triumphs.

Bolton, who quickly transforms from the milquetoast Matt to a heartless mafia hit-man to a German S&M-loving bisexual and then a suave Mexican bandito, recalls a first date who was just as aggressive and capricious as Barbie. Moments after the couple ordered their drinks, his dinner companion admitted that sex was the only important item on the menu.

“When I said no, that wasn’t all that I was interested in, my date threw a twenty on the table and got up and left me sitting there, so I can definitely relate,” recalled Bolton, who appeared as an understudy for Lancelot, King Arthur and Galahad in Monty Python’s “Spamalot.” But Matt, who makes a brief reappearance in the final scene, does eventually meet his match, and Bolton is crossing his fingers that he too will find enduring companionship. “I am currently living hopefully ever after,” he declared.

After Bolton is rebuffed in the first scene by Barbie, played by Heather Ayers, the tables soon turn when he breaks up with Ayers’ Gretchen, a pink-wigged German dominatrix. In a painful blow, he admits preferring Jeff Gurner’s leiderhosen-laden limbs to her vinyl-clad curves. In this, the most outrageous scene in the play, the audience’s eyebrows are raised by suggestive song lyrics and the frilly pink-panties Gurner dons during the threesome’s dance routine to “Der Bumsen-Kratzentanz.” Though Ayers has never been in quite so bizarre a love triangle, she could still identify with the utter craziness of the moment.

“I think everyone has had at least one date where you’re like ‘this is so bizarre!’ or ‘this is completely uncomfortable!’” she said. Ayers, who grew skilled at wild-costumed, cabaret-style performances during her work in “Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back,” says that song seems to be the perfect medium for satirizing the vulnerability of the search for love. “Music can convey those heightened feelings so we don’t feel so alone and we can embrace the absurdity and awkwardness that is dating,” she proclaimed.

In the last scene, Ayers and Bolton actually do find romantic connection, as the mousey bookwork Kitty, whose dime store romances are the inspiration for each of the previous five scenes, meets the still-single Matt, when he walks into the diner where she is a waitress. Under the sparkling bespectacled eyes of the owner, Pops, played by Gurner, long-awaited true love finally arrives. For Gurner, the diner was quite a fitting place for characters to find each other.

“My first date with my awesomely cool girlfriend, Michelle was on the night before my birthday, and we just talked for hours. We got a bit hungry, and she scored huge points when she suggested a diner because she was jonesing for a bacon, egg and cheese on a roll with extra crispy french fries,” recalled Gurner, who, as the maitre’d in each of the five restaurants, watches love bloom but can’t seem to find it for himself. In real life, though, his first date with Michelle was a show-stopping success, complete with a culminating song and dance routine. “On our first date, she danced for me. Yep, smack-dab in the middle of 57th street,” remembered the actor whose previous roles include Timon and Zazu in “The Lion King.” He fondly recalled his girlfriend’s unique performance skills. “She treated me to her signature dance routine—a piece she learned as an eight year old in Miss Liz’s School of Dance. All I can say is…wow. Just…um…wow. ”

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