Molotov Theatre Group taught me a valuable lesson: When an usher greets you with a program in one hand and a plastic poncho in the other, get ready to scream and/or duck. Molotov’s production of Shawn Paul Northrip’s The Horrors of Online Dating takes the audience on a darkly funny, musical romp through one woman’s bloody, drug-addled search for fulfillment.
Horrors tells the story of Judy, an office worker struggling to contain a dark secret. When not at work, Judy spends her every waking minute seducing men through online dating sites. However, when her online beaus show up at her apartment, they find out that the demure Judy can be a real “man-eater”. With the body count piling up and a trio of puppets watching and critiquing her every move, Judy wrestles with her inner demons and seeks help from a renowned motivational speaker. When things don’t go quite as planned, Judy quickly begins to lose her remaining grip on reality, and the audience is sent down a crazy rabbit hole of pills, body parts, and forbidden love.
The horror/comedy is a difficult trick to pull off, requiring a delicate equilibrium of shocks and laughs to prevent the audience from ever fully getting comfortable. The pacing of the script is essential in this regard. Thankfully, Northrip took great care to inject regular moments of levity into the killing while maintaining an air of menace throughout.
The cast seems to understand the necessary balance, as well. Jenny Donovan is scary-good as sociopath Judy, sliding seamlessly between moments of wild-eyed mania and lucid sarcasm. She’s both alluring and terrifying, repeatedly lulling the audience into complacency before each violent snap. Lucas Maloney is terrific as motivational speaker Francis Rabassa. He initially exhibits the remarkable charisma and hypnotizing delivery of a seasoned pitchman, later delivering a totally convincing portrayal of a frenzied, trapped animal.
The supporting cast brings welcome comic relief to the bloody psychodrama.
Alex Zavistovich plays two unbearably sleazy online dates, yet he plays them with such conviction and cocky self-assurance that I almost wanted to stand up and warn him about Judy’s voracious “appetite”. As Judy’s semi-normal coworkers, Karen Novack and Graham Pilato provide necessary foils to Judy’s psychotic private life, delivering some understated and truly funny moments amidst all the carnage.
The puppets are another key stabilizing element. In their roles as a cynical cat, a sassy laptop, and a smarmy pill bottle, Genevieve James, Julie Garner, and Luke Cieslewicz buoy Judy’s violent downward spiral with their hilarious banter and surreal, cartoon-like physicality. Think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Requiem for a Dream filmed on Avenue Q. The puppets, and the actors manipulating them, very nearly steal the show with their surreal whimsy.
Ironically, the musical’s one weakness is the singing. While Donovan shines during her numbers, the other actors struggle with Northrip’s clever, stripped down score. Perhaps it’s the pressure of being in a small space accompanied by only an acoustic guitar, but it seems that the performers were chosen more for their great character work than for their beautiful tone. Luckily, the songs are few and far between, so this issue doesn’t mortally wound the show’s entertainment value.
Clocking in at between 1 ½ hours with no intermission, The Horrors of Online Dating is a shockingly enjoyable, one-act cyclone of laughs and horror. The show is a gory blast that will send you out into the night entertained, unsettled, and endowed with a renewed wariness of that one weird guy in your office. You know, the one with the talking laptop.
The Horrors of Online Dating
By Shawn Northrip
Directed by Kevin Finkelstein
Produced by Molotov Theatre Group
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Running time: 90 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?