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ANN ARBOR – If there’s one thing that every unpartnered person of every sexual orientation can agree on, it’s probably this: Dating sucks. “It’s embarrassing for everybody,” said John Hartman, a cute, twenty-something local improviser whose facial expression seemed to indicate some unpleasant experiences with the ritual. “There’s the same mistakes, frustrations and awkwardness in both (gay and straight) dating. It’s such a universal thing. Everyone can identify with it.”
Which, of course, makes it the perfect subject for improvisers to skewer. So more than a year ago, Hartman and co-creator Pj Jakokes came up with “Uncoupled,” a romantic comedy at Ann Arbor’s Improv Inferno that does just that. “We take personal ads from the newspaper and hand them to audience members who pick a male and female personals ad,” Hartman explained. “We then have two ‘daters’ in the cast come up and read who they’ll be playing, and (then show) what would happen if they went out on a date.”
The entire cycle of their relationship is played out. “The first part is before they meet – what their lives are like. The second part is after they meet – is (the relationship) working or not. All the while, the (actual) date is a through-line; we visit it three times.”
The results have kept audiences laughing and coming back for more. “It’s the only show, I think, that we’ve brought back at least twice,” Hartman said.
Up ’til now, the show has focused only on straight couples. Queers finally get their turn this Friday night. “We never thought to pick a man and a man, or a woman and a woman,” Hartman reflected. “But it just seemed logical for the show to take this progression.”
Although the show will cater to a gay audience, Hartman promises it won’t pander to them. “We won’t be making fun of gay people at any gay person’s expense, but we’re certainly going to poke fun of the trials and tribulations of dating. If you’re gay and into the dating life – most gay bars and clubs revolve around the dating scene – it’s frustrating. It’s silly, it’s stupid – and gay people act stupid just like everyone else a lot of times. It’s not to be taken seriously.”
Hartman, who first became interested in improv while in middle school, earned a double degree in film and classical trumpet performance from the University of Michigan in 2006. “Film has been really helpful in some of the theater and acting stuff I’ve done. But I haven’t used the trumpet much lately,” he chuckled.
A one-time stand-up comic who prefers the collaborative nature of creating fresh material every time he’s on stage, Hartman has studied improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York and the Second City Training Center in Chicago. He’s been with the Inferno pretty much since its founding in the fall of 2004. “Without any sense of hyperbole, (the Inferno) changed who I am and changed my life completely for the better. I’d be doing something completely different without that place. It’s going to be rather pathetic when it’s gone.”
Dan Izzo, Improv Inferno’s founder, recently announced plans to close up shop at its current location, Live at PJ’s, after the April 14 performance. “To show how pathetic my life and social life are, because I revolve so many nights and weekends around (the Inferno), it’s (closure) is going to put a magnifying glass to that part of my life. It’ll be mildly embarrassing at first, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything,” Hartman laughed.
A sold out crowd for “A Very Gay Uncoupled” on April 6 would help ease the young improviser’s pain. “I’d love to see Live at PJ’s filled with gay people – and like scaring the management that so many are there,” he said with a grin, colorfully noting that gays and lesbians are not generally among the nightclub’s clientele.
The performance will include Lauren Bickers, Chris DiAngelo, Dave Davies, Anne Faba, Bryan Lark, Katie Thomas, Cara Trautman, Hartman and Jakokes.
“There might be some kissing,” Hartman, who – along with Jakokes will play one of the daters – teased. “That doesn’t happen often with this show. But I could definitely see it happening!”
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘A Very Gay Uncoupled’
8 p.m. April 6
Improv Inferno at Live at PJ’s
102 S. First Ave., Ann Arbor