By Ilaria Cutolo

British comedian/actress Nina Conti (Family Tree, Nina Conti Clowning Around, Her Master’s Voice, Sunlight) delivers comedy gold with her new live tour, The Dating Show,  running now at SoHo Playhouse through March 2nd. You do not want to miss this one. Bring a date or go solo, but do go and see it before it’s gone! Conti delivers her signature absurdist comedy and quick-thinking ventriloquism in spades. I knew we were in for something different when my plus one and I for the night were sent to a dark, cozy, packed room, with a bar, a tiny stage, and few seats, which I mistakenly thought was where the show was performing, but no, my wise guest informs me, (who happens to be the owner of this blog) – the main stage is upstairs in another small intimate space quickly delivering a full house moments before the show begins.

I was hoping Conti would bring her cute, albeit, pan-dry and blunt sidekick dummy “Monkey” (Conti’s alter-ego, if you will), an act she is well known for, and sure enough, the show begins with Monkey in hand wasting no time immediately launching into his (well, Conti’s) trademark wry, dark-humor, quirky and self-effacing comedy. As the show’s title suggests, this is a dating show, so naturally, questions are pointed to couples in the audience. At one point, Conti covers herself in a black sheet, the entire feat a comedy of errors in itself, exposing Monkey through an opening, while he invites brave guests up for a speed dating session. Monkey interviews each “date” quickly before ringing a bell signaling that the date is over and on to the next brave soul.

Conti makes ventriloquism look easy. She enjoys engaging with the audience and has no trouble persuading attendees to join her on stage, which is 50% of the performance. The other half is Conti and Monkey. Think of a slightly off-beat charming yet wry Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop with a British accent. I was smiling, laughing, and generally amused the entire time. The show is fun and Nina is great, great fun.  The audience was having a ball, and many laughing hysterically. At one point at the start of the show, my plus one, who wasn’t familiar with her work, asked if she was doing all the voices herself. Oh, you bet she was. It seems almost impossible how naturally Conti can ventriloquize from one person to another, while simultaneously, asking them questions and engaging at break-neck speed. It did make me question if these people weren’t plants, but no folks, this is all improvised comedy.

The show flies by in just one hour and is a crescendo of quick, spontaneous humor. Conti is simply brilliant. While I hate to throw the word “genius” around, I can’t think of any other word to describe her. No one else does what she does, taking the art of ventriloquism to a whole new level. The show culminates with a group of brave audience goers who gather up onto the stage to don exaggerated masks that cover just below the nose while Conti manipulates the speech based on the person’s gestures responding with keen and off-the-cuff ridiculous replies. Each night promises something new. I may just have to go see another show before this run ends.

Performed by Nina Conti (with vent puppet Monkey). Presented by Michael Mckean; Produced by Show And Tell.

WHERE: SoHo Playhouse: 15 Vandam St, New York, NY 10013. Tickets start at $36.

WHEN: February 14-17, 21-24, 27-29, & March 1-2  @ 9 PM, amid <arch 3 at 6PM. 212-691-1555.