Director Melody Erfani works on a scene about social media with the cast of "First Date" in rehearsals at the Grand Theater on Feb. 17. (Casey Chaffin/Special to Salem Reporter)

“Just a little more ‘I’m totally going to kick ass on this date,’” the director, Melody Erfani, says, encouraging Molly Duddlesten to embody her character. Duddlesten nods knowingly, returning to position to try it again.

The production in question is “First Date,” a romantic comedy musical opening this weekend at Enlightened Theatrics. The musical has two leads, Duddlesten and Alex Foufos, and three ensemble actors, Dylan Bauman, Logan Burt, and Hillary Hoover, who have multiple roles throughout the show.

The musical opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Grand Theater and will run through March 15. Tickets can be purchased online or at Enlightened Theatrics box office on 187 High St. N.E. The show runs 90 minutes without an intermission.

“First Date” is the story of two young people, Casey and Aaron, looking for love in New York City. The story begins when Casey - Duddlesten’s character – meets Aaron – Foufos’ character - and ends when they part at the end of their first date.

The story unfolds in “real time,” Erfani said, and dwells on the thoughts inside your head on a first date. What would my family think of this person? What about my friends? My exes?

“I think for anyone who’s ever dated, it’s definitely identifiable,” Erfani said.

During rehearsals, Erfani makes sure the men’s performances ring true. At one moment, she shows Bauman, who plays Casey’s other ex, how to properly mime smoking from a dry-ice filled bong. At another, she tries to adjust the men’s movements to establish peak overconfidence.

“It needs to be very Justin Bieber,” Erfani directs, demonstrating a swagger. Mid-sway, she laughs. “I don’t know if that’s right, that’s just what came to mind.”

Vincenzo Meduri, Enlightened Theatrics’ founding artistic director, usually directs the shows, but he brought Erfani on for a “female perspective” in a show written by three men. And the show resonates even more for Erfani, as someone who came to Oregon from New York.

“I definitely identify with dating in New York,” she said. “I did that for a long time.” 

“First Date” is Erfani’s first time working for the downtown theater company. She’s been directing since she was 19 as an undergrad, although she’s been involved in theater since childhood, she said.

Erfani, 36, splits her time between Portland and New York, where she keeps an apartment and runs a small nonprofit production company. She’s been in Oregon for about a year and made the move to be with her partner, she said. Now, she works part-time as a marketing director and also directs. She’s also producing a show she created about her Iranian grandmother in Portland this April.

While Oregon doesn’t have the theater scene of New York, she’s enjoyed working with Enlightened Theatrics. The show’s actors have varying levels of professional experience, she said, but that hasn’t hindered her ability to work with them.

“They act like professionals and that’s all I care about,” she said.

“First Date” is also a change of pace for Erfani.

“Typically shows I’m drawn to have been political or can be a little dark,” she said. “This has been a 180 and it’s been delightful.”

The show’s lighthearted humor reminded Erfani how different types of theater can serve their purposes.

“Theater can be a tool for social consciousness, (and) it can be a tool for emotional release,” she said.

For this production, the audience can “leave their worries at the door,” she said. 

Contact Casey Chaffin: [email protected]

A tech at Enlightened Theatrics set up lights during rehearsals at the Grand Theater on Feb. 17 ahead of the staging of "First Date." (Casey Chaffin/Special to Salem Reporter)

Alex Foufos and Molly Duddlesten star in "First Date," opening Friday at the Grand Theater. (Vincenzo Meduri photo)