How Does a Drug Deal Become a Decent 3rd Date?
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
February 28, 2009
The word "dating" conjures up a host of images and associations: enthusiastic talk show hosts with their rolling eyes and knowing smiles as their relationship experts dispense wisdom to pre-selected audience members; or the stern but comforting, smoked-stained voices of late night radio DJs coaching the next caller from Tulsa, Oklahoma through their fear and loneliness to summon their courage and ask that secret crush out for coffee or maybe dinner; or maybe it's the online dating commercial with the giddy and googly-eyed couple speaking to the camera in a state of disbelief because they never, ever thought it could happen to them.
In Green with Envy Productions' How Does a Drug Deal Become a Decent 3rd Date?, the image we're presented with is that of a man and a woman seated in his car in the middle of nowhere. The man, the Drug Dealer of the title, is searching through his date's purse, trying to get enough of her money together to buy drugs. The woman, referred to in the show's program as Girl, is doing some rummaging of her own, going through her life trying to figure out how she got herself in this situation. She spends the next hour of the play trying to come up with an answer. If the specific circumstance is unusual, her path to becoming one of the walking wounded of the dating scene will seem all too familiar.
Girl shifts between addressing the audience and taking part in the action during these scenes (and throughout the play) and perfectly embodies the rush and thrill of first love's embrace. She begins where most self-examining love stories do, with her first love. In this case, it's a tall, sweet Production Assistant she meets on the set of an independent television show. Their courtship feels like something out of the '50s. They kiss, go on picnics, and play pool. He asks her to be his girl. She wears his ring.
When the fall comes however, when the break happens unexpectedly, it reveals a deeper set of complications within both characters and sends Girl off on a journey into the heart of dating darkness.
In this vast and funny jungle (it's a comedy after all; the nod to Conrad is only a reference) Girl does the right thing and moves to repair her psyche, but certain realities ensure that getting over this person will not be simple. The first is that he won't go away. He hangs around, manipulating her uncertainty, refusing to let go of the love she has for him. He asks her to spend the night—even though he has another girlfriend—and she does. Her door is always open to him for dates, occasional hook-ups and, in one strange instance, relief from a woman living in her building with some inventive uses for Listerine breath strips.
Then there's the matter of her attempts at dating, which usually end disastrously. There is the aforementioned Drug Dealer but there is also Stalker, an intense but arrogant actor that even she admits she should have known better than to go out with. He writes her hundreds of letters, follows her everywhere, randomly barges into her apartment to make sure she's okay, and slurps his wine like a gurgling infant.
There are moments when Stalker's behavior verges on threatening and there were times I wondered why Girl didn't just call the police on this man. He adds nothing to her life but an annoyance. But in keeping with the show's overall tone, Girl is never in real physical danger. But consider Stalker harmless at you own risk. To dismiss him is to miss a truth at the heart of this charming show.
How Does a Drug Deal Become a Decent Third Date? is a kind of memory play told from Girl's point of view. In this case, Stalker is something that has already been experienced and turned into a theme in her point of view. He is but one itch that Girl scratches to find some relief from her confusion. A small, nagging, persistent itch. Every character is. There were times during the play when I wanted more from the characters: a bit more stress, a bit more urgency, a bit more responsibility for their reactions. But playwright Kelly Aija Zemnickis seems to be playing a different game. She is using the flashbacks and Girl's experiences to get at larger themes such as what we're willing to put up with in the people we love, why we're willing to put up with such behavior and, ultimately, what these things teach us about our fundamental selves. The play is a memory, a recollection used to sort through a specific set of tribulations. It's an exercise in sorting through experience. And as Girl confirms near the end of the play, "Dating is about learning what's good for you, not for perfecting the Art of what doesn't."
Zemnickis and Director Carmine Lucarelli are helped in this endeavor by a couple of very fine actors. Neale Kimmel keeps the production grounded and focused with a lovely performance that is honest and perfectly calibrated. She gives Girl an emotional complexity that never strains for credibility. Jesse Bond pulls off a coup of sorts. Cast as Drug Dealer, Stalker, and Ex-Boyfriend, he creates distinct characters, investing each with a life and integrity of their own.