Featured photo: Drag queen CC LaBrie sings as she sits on the lap of Jacob Gordon at The Dating Game at the Camel City Playhouse in Winston-Salem N.C., on July 9, 2022. (photo by Juliet Coen)

“If you know what The Dating Game is, it’s time for a colonic,” host CC LaBrie says as she struts across the stage in a bright red dress, peering out into the packed house before turning her pointed gaze to her announcer, Carl Nubile.

Flowers in shades of neon burst out of the mellow yellow walls of the Camel City Playhouse stage on Saturday night. Their wobbly shape immediately invokes the unmistakable 1960s classic TV show “The Dating Game,” but tonight’s game has been updated with inclusive couples and delightfully raunchy banter.

LaBrie is a fixture on the Triad entertainment scene, yet in her role as the erstwhile matchmaker she shines brighter than the wobbly neon flowers. The self-described “Bearded Housewife of Winston-Salem” is as far from classic TV host Jim Lange as you can imagine, and it’s a welcome change. 

Play goes in three rounds, mixed with musical performances by LaBrie and a set from local comedian Stephen Melaga. Round One includes Bachelor No. 1 and his three male suitors, Round Two a Bachelorette and her three male suitors, and Round Three Bachelor No. 2 and his three male suitors. 

CC LaBrie hosts The Dating Game at the Camel City Playhouse in Winston-Salem N.C., on July 9, 2022. (photo by Juliet Coen)

Each contestant sits behind a screen, unable to see their potential dates, who are seated on a couch spread with a lively vintage crocheted-flower bedspread. After the bachelor or bachelorette asks their potential matches a series of questions, they choose the contestant they’d like to go out with on a date. As reward for their love match, each couple receives a gift card to a local restaurant for their first outing. 

Each of the three rounds provides a singular kind entertainment. When Bachelor No. 1 asks his potential dates a seemingly innocuous question about their favorite ice cream flavor, contestant three turns back and asks him the same question. “Pistachio,” the bachelor says. Contestant three immediately quips back, “You like nuts, noted.” 

It’s not all dirty jokes, but there is a constant thread of lighthearted sexual tension. With a sly smile, a bachelorette poses the loaded question, “It’s a Tuesday night and I’ve had a terrible day at work, what are you going to make me do to feel better?”

Contestant 3 responds: “Front rub, back rub, whatever-you-need rub.”

Incidentally, she chose Contestant 3.

Gerald Fitzgerald, right, and Zach Pfrimmer share a hug during The Dating Game at the Camel City Playhouse in Winston-Salem N.C., on July 9, 2022. Pfrimmer was chosen out of three contestants for a date with Fitzgerald. (photo by Juliet Coen)
Jake Messina laughs during The Dating Game at the Camel City Playhouse in Winston-Salem N.C., on July 9, 2022. (photo by Juliet Coen)

The interplay between the host and the contestants is the X-factor in the evening. CC LaBrie offers supportive stage presence for the contestants, while also keeping the audience engaged and laughing. When Bachelor No. 3 asks the men on the couch what fictional place they’d like to visit, his Contestant 1 says he’d like to go to Narnia.

Labrie pads across the stage in her heels towards the couch, “Is that because you’re still in the closet? Should Triad City Beat not be photographing you right now?”

There are tentative plans to bring “The Dating Game” back to Camel City Playhouse in the future, according to LaBrie. This kind of engaged and community focused entertainment is a respite from the often oppressive times that we live in, she says. Though the diversity in tonight’s show was always part of the vision, LaBrie would like to include a mixed sexuality round and members of the trans community in the future. 

The Camel City Playhouse in Winston-Salem N.C., on July 9, 2022 (photo by Juliet Coen)

All of the contestants point out that modern dating is not easy, and many people turned down offers to participate in the production because of the vulnerability that this kind of public forum entails. 

For the contestants tonight, it all seemed to turn out for the best. Walking out of the production, the men of Round 3 are standing together outside a bar across the street, drinking and laughing. Though Contestant 2 and his incredible waxed mustache weren’t chosen for the date, he sums up the sentiment of the evening, “I got to interact with people in real life, and I’d say that I won by making friends.”

Find future shows on Camel City Playhouse’s social media or at camelcityplayhouse.com.

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