Vet legit-TV scribe Garth Wingfield (Showtime’s “Queer Like Folk,” ABC’s “Clueless”) has relocated the Manhattan locales of his Off Broadway hit, “Dating Games,” to Los Angeles environs, but the transition of this series of five 15-minute playlets has lost none of its edgy humor. Credit original Gotham helmer Laura Josepher with maintaining the beautifully balanced rhythms of these engrossing encounters between various configurations of some monumentally needy contemporary folk. She is supported by a gifted four-member ensemble, including original Off Broadway cast members Karin Sibrava and Michael Anderson, who are joined by Alysia Reiner and David Alan Basche (former regular on NBC’s “Three Sisters”).
With the precision of a skilled surgeon, Wingfield cuts right to the center of each character’s neuroses as he or she attempts to navigate the treacherous waters of big city dating life.
To scripter’s and helmer’s credit, the often cruelly comical shenanigans still manage to sympathetically underscore the frailty of the human psyche that is desperate to not be alone, yet is driven to project the negative energy that makes connecting with others so difficult.
The opening vignette, “Mary Just Broke Up With This Guy,” is a hilarious excursion into the dating dilemmas of Mary (Sibrava), a needy but oh-so-choosy newcomer to the dating scene after recently ending a long-term relationship.
In a series of more than a dozen brief but brilliantly executed encounters, Mary presses a buzzer whenever her current date (all portrayed with virtuosi versatility by Anderson) proves to be unworthy.
What is eventually revealed is Mary’s inadequacy to absorb and appreciate the potential for happiness that could be sitting right across the cocktail table.
“The Lunch Date” once again finds a woman suffering an emotional meltdown after ending a years-long relationship with a man.
Angst-driven Holly (Sibrava again) confides to best friend Alice (Reiner) that her first tentative foray into dating was a luncheon rendezvous with a very attractive woman.
The palpable uncertainty projected by Sibrava is balanced beautifully by the astonished titillation projected by Reiner, who can barely mask the vicarious pleasure she is enjoying at the expense of her pal’s tortured ambivalence.
Reiner and Anderson return as Sheila and Henry in “Cha-Cha-Cha,” the poignant high school reunion encounter of two lonely souls who did not really know each other 20 years earlier, even though they were paired together in ballroom dance class.
The two quite believably project the immediate emotional bond that overcomes them even though they can’t possibly have a future together.
The highlight of the production is “Daniel on a Thursday,” which focuses on the maneuverings of Kevin (Anderson), a gay bar habitue who morphs into whatever persona is applicable to ingratiate himself to Daniel (Basche), a repressed hunk of a man who is decidedly needful of intervention from someone who can see past his off-putting demeanor.
The only low point of the evening is the final segment.
“Run” is a wordy, obtuse vignette about two isolated dog-loving Angeleno singles Spence and Suzanne (Basche and Sibrava) bonding over their dogs’ free-at-last rompings in a canine-friendly park. The segment isn’t aided or abetted by the inclusion of over-the-top psycho Helen (Reiner), who is more caricature than character.
Production credits by Sarah Lambert (sets), Lew Abramson (lights) and Todd Cheroches (sound) are first rate, doing much to enhance the veracity of Wingfield’s vision.