'Bad Dates' At Long Wharf-Kissing Frogs To Find Mr Right
âBad Datesâ At Long Wharfâ
Kissing Frogs To Find Mr Right
By Julie Stern
NEW HAVEN â On learning that Long Wharf was staging a ninety minute, no-intermission, one-woman tour-de-force called Bad Dates, I assumed that the company was simply planning to save money by having the fourth play of the season consist of a comedienne sitting on a stool on an otherwise bare stage, regaling the audience with comically delivered hyperbolic accounts of the âworst dating experiencesâ of her life.
Surprise, surprise. The first inkling that Theresa Rebeckâs play would be something more ambitious â apart from her statement in the program notes that âMy plays are comedies, but my work is character-centricâ¦Iâm not a joke writerâ â came from Frank J. Alberinoâs set.
Dominating the small stage was a lovingly detailed recreation of the crowded, messy, high-ceilinged Manhattan bedroom and walk-in closet of a divorced single mother. The super-realism of the set extended through the open doorway to provide glimpses of an old-fashioned bathroom, and the door to a second bedroom.
To this, add Jessica Wegenerâs costume design, Josh Epsteinâs lighting, Corrine Livingstonâs sound, Eric Tingâs direction, and above all Courtney Jamesâ stage managing (Iâll explain that in a moment)Â and it becomes clear that Bad Dates is a genuine play. Light, fluffy, âcuteâ as one patron described it on her way out, it may be, but this chronicle of a world in which a single woman has to kiss a lot of frogs to find a winner, is funny enough to be entertaining, and complex enough to hold your attention.
The story begins with Haley Walker (Haviland Morris) clad only in a black slip, standing on tip-toe in her closet, trying to retrieve one shoebox without having the other forty crash down on her head. Itâs a tricky business, and she turns and smiles ruefully at the audience, as she begins a dramatic monologue that will span some seven or eight years.
âIâm not a shoe fetishist,â she confides, as she wades through her collection of Jimmy Choos, Chanels, Joan & Davids, and such. She begins her story â how a crazy husband in Texas who got into drug-dealing drove her to flee to New York with their four-year-old daughter, and start life over as a waitress in a restaurant that was actually a front for the Romanian mafia.
As she talks, Haley tries on a series of outfits, looking hopefully for our approval, before scrapping each one and moving to something different. An experience at a Long Island new age environmental fundraiser has convinced her that itâs time to get back into the dating worldâ¦
As the title promises, there are three disastrous âdatesâ in the course of the story, but these encounters take place over a long period of time, in which the more important dramatic structure has to do with Haleyâs increased self-awareness and our growing appreciation of her as a person.
While the setting remains constant, the passage of time is conveyed by a delightful device of a pair of stage hands dressed as the Blues Brothers, who dance into the room in order to neaten things up before silently stealing away, all to the accompaniment of a soft, understated jazz score.
We learn that Vera, the daughter who never emerges from the second bedroom, is now sevenâ¦ then tenâ¦ then 12â¦ as Haley â tall, graceful and possessed of Texan charm â becomes more articulate and less daffy. Of course she could make a success of running a fancy restaurant. Then the tale lurches unexpectedly into a denouement that is suddenly both melodramatic and romantic.
The playwright and the actress have both had plenty of experience in New York television, and so thatâs what we get. Bad Dates is fun, âcute,â the clothes are amazing, and under Eric Tingâs direction, the choreography of getting these outfits on and off is impressive indeed.
(Performances continue to March 22.
See the Enjoy Calendar page for details.)