Performed at La Ministere as part of Montreal Pride, Aug. 10 to 16, 2019
First presented at the Festival de la Bête Noir at Mainline Theatre last February, Lesbian Speed Date From Hell is getting a return visit, courtesy of Montreal Pride’s theatre strand, via a sold-out run at OFF-JFL last month.
As you can possibly tell from the title, it’s a deliberately schlocky slice of camp horror, partly inspired, say its creators, by John Waters’s Serial Mom. In tone, aesthetics and gloriously bad taste gags, though, it reminded more of the earlier works of Baltimore’s Pope of Trash, before Hairspray made him kind of respectable.
The simple but effective story revolves around Jackie (Katherine King So), whom we first see, ominously enough, reading a copy of Stephen King’s Misery. Jackie, whose first tentative toe-dipping into the speed dating scene, courtesy of her neighbour Regina’s weekly event, results in some bloody payback. For Jackie isn’t new to the lesbian dating scene, and a previous encounter online with the sexy but possibly psycho Ashley (Kate Hammer) ended up with Jackie ghosting her, ie, cutting all communications, after Ashley started to come on too strong.
After following Jackie home and breaking into her apartment, Ashley ties her to a chair (that rather overused post-Tarantino dramatic shock tactic) and proceeds to devise horrible tortures, all timed to the two-minute ding of the speed-dating clock.
The violence Ashley visits upon Jackie is genuinely horrific, but how seriously we’re supposed to take it is indicated by the fact that the latter bounces back from every injury like a cartoon cat. For instance, soon after Ashley pours boiling water on her crotch, Jackie is soon back to verbally jousting without any visible signs of physical discomfort. She even engages Ashley in a Kill Bill-style face-off after wriggling out of her constraints. The choreographed action scenes (including Ashley’s first attack, soundtracked to — what else? — the shrieking violins from Hitchcock’s Psycho) are amusingly over-the-top, director Mariah Inger further assuring us we shouldn’t be taking things too seriously by including a few deliberate play-that’s-gone-bad bloopers.
The writing team of Christina Saliba, Lorna Kidjo and Adam Kolodny clearly had lots of fun devising bad puns, rude references, and sassy come-backs, and the mostly LGBTQ crowd whooped it up throughout (the room was filled to capacity when I caught the show last Saturday). The fact that it’s performed in a bar adds to, you could say, excuses, the informality, with its frequent moments of scrappy staging and sloppy timing.
The performances are variable — I liked Martha Graham’s nerdy and compulsively apologetic prospective date, and Kathy Slamen is enjoyably brassy as Speed Date hostess Regina. (Brit soap Coronation Street gets a namecheck, and I wondered if Slamen was perhaps channeling that show’s legendary barmaid, Bet Lynch). Some of the actors, though, have trouble projecting. That one of these is King So takes the edge off some of her scenes with co-star Kate Hammer.
Hammer, though, mostly kills it as the slinky, explosively mercurial Ashley. There’s a definite touch there of Serial Mom’s Kathleen Turner, though she arguably comes off more like Jessica Rabbit, whom Turner, of course, voiced. And, in fact, for all the underlying seriousness about the dehumanizing effects of online dating, the show is perhaps best enjoyed as a cheerful and gaudy cartoon. The occasional slapdash moments, dramatic inconsistencies and groan-worthy jokes aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just drawn that way.