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After watching Stanley Tucci‘s 2007 film Blind Date, No Rules Theatre Company’s producing artistic director Brian Sutow knew he had to adapt it for the stage. “I immediately felt that it was a story that had so much potential,” he says. Blind Date, to him, was really an actors’ piece. Four years after seeing the film, Sutow is finally mounting his take on it: No Rules’ The Personal(s) at Signature Theatre.
Tucci’s film didn’t tell this particular story first. His movie was based on the 1996 Dutch film of the same name by slain director Theo Van Gogh, a descendant of the famous painter. The original was never released in the U.S., but all three stories follow a similar arc: a married couple becomes estranged after experiencing a great tragedy, and in an attempt to reconnect, they begin going on a series of “blind dates” set up through personal ads. The dates offer a little levity in a dark time—-at least in the beginning. “These are characters who are incredibly funny, and yet comedy is duplicitous for them because … some of their best attributes have also, unfortunately, really come to wound them,” Sutow says. “That felt really honest to me.” In some ways, the story’s dark humor echoes Edward Albee‘s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, though in an inverted way: Whereas Albee’s George and Martha invent a fictional child to cope with their shortcomings, The Personal(s)‘ Janna and Don struggle with the loss of their real-life offspring.
To write the adaptation, Sutow contacted Tucci, who then connected him with the lawyers and producers in Berlin who control the rights to the film. Beyond that, Tucci has remained supportive of the project but hasn’t been heavily involved, Sutow says, allowing him alter the material as much as he wants.
Among the first things to go was the title, which Sutow considered a little hokey. “When you say ‘blind date,’ I picture something that is much kookier than what this material really is,” he notes. “It just doesn’t bring to mind the right tone or the right ideas.” He chose The Personal(s) in part because it touches on some of the dialogue’s dual meanings—-and it’s just more relevant to the play’s content. Also changing: the ending, which he wanted to tweak from the outset. The stage version also includes a third character, Henry, a bartender who serves Don and Janna on their dates. He functions as a point of truth and the characters speak more honestly around him than they do around each other. Sutow made these changes early on when he was completing a playwriting fellowship at the Kennedy Center. But rehearsals have molded the work, too. “The further along I get in the process,” he says, “the less I feel indebted to the source material and the more I’m able to find the story I really want to tell.”
No Rules has used this season to focus on comedy’s multifarious uses and iterations, first presenting Peter Shaffer‘s farce, Black Comedy. The Personal(s) occupies a darker band of the comedic spectrum. No Rules’ willingness to take chances helped earn the company a Helen Hayes Award for Best Emerging Theater Company in 2011. Creating and presenting a new work like this could be complicated for a young company like No Rules, but it’s a risk Sutow is willing to take.
The play runs to May 18 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. Except for preview performances, tickets run $30-$40 not including fees.