Jake Penner and Ben Beams in Broom Street Theater's Chat
After sifting through the noise of shirtless selfies and penile proposals on a dating website, Jane (Hattie Chamberlin) finds Robert (Jake Penner), and they hit it off in every digital medium. Their profiles complement each other, they complete each other's instant message thoughts, they send long confessional emails, and they text every day. But when they decide to meet in person, their relationship seems stuck in the interwebs. They end up texting each other through dinner, unable to speak the words that come so easily to their screens.
Jane relates this first date to her friend Kay (Kat Anderson), while Robert acts it out for his buddy Bruce (Ben Beams). Each friend gives their view of the 21st-century dating game, complete with good and bad advice on what and what not to do. Kay married Jeff after the two discovered their mutual love of Journey at a bar. Bruce still spends his nights looking for the next best hookup.
Both of these friends scoff at online dating and poke fun at Robert and Jane's virtual relationship, pushing them toward a more traditional courtship. When Jane tells Kay that she and Robert chatted for a month before meeting, Kay bursts out laughing. "You mean typed for a month," she says. To Kay and Bruce, nothing replaces the instant synapse connections people make when meeting in person. You get a gut feel for a person, Kay says. You can show them your sick dance moves, Bruce advises. But as they share their wisdom on dating, they show how little romance changes when it goes online.
Most of the friends' conversations are light banter about the world of dating, but there are a few glimpses into the real challenges of modern romance. Bruce's Craigslist "sin experiment" is a brilliant demonstration of how people can use the Internet as a mask. Posing as a naïve and nubile 21-year-old girl, Bruce lures married men to a bar only to stand them up as a form of moral punishment. The mutual deceit shows the multiple lives people can have online, where they are safe from the "whips of social norms," as Bruce calls it. His internal conflict on whether he should expose these men at the risk of breaking up their marriages is one of the most significant social commentaries in Chat.
The secret stars of Chat ;), however, are Her and Him, played by Wendy Prosise and Bob Moore. They act out various scenes the friends describe in conversation, nearly stealing the show with their over-the-top mimed acts of courtship and peacock-like fluttering. Their reenactments of the different dating websites -- brief commercials from Match You, Catholic Match and Babe Dates -- are spot on. They say more about today’s dating culture than any commentary from Jane, Kay, Robert or Bruce.
While most of the conversations in Chat ;) are safe and predictable, the love story is not. Jane and Robert's journey to a happy medium between online and offline dating is easy to relate to and entertaining to watch.