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'Bad Dates' At Long Wharf-Kissing Frogs To Find Mr Right



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‘Bad Dates’ At Long Wharf—

Kissing Frogs To Find Mr Right

By Julie Stern

NEW HAVEN — 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 “worst dating experiences” of her life.

Surprise, surprise. The first inkling that Theresa Rebeck’s play would be something more ambitious — apart from her statement in the program notes that “My plays are comedies, but my work is character-centric…I’m not a joke writer” — came from Frank J. Alberino’s 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 Wegener’s costume design, Josh Epstein’s lighting, Corrine Livingston’s sound, Eric Ting’s direction, and above all Courtney James’ stage managing (I’ll explain that in a moment)  and it becomes clear that Bad Dates is a genuine play. Light, fluffy, “cute” 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. It’s 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.

“I’m not a shoe fetishist,” she confides, as she wades through her collection of Jimmy Choos, Chanels, Joan & Davids, and such. She begins her story — 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 it’s time to get back into the dating world…

As the title promises, there are three disastrous “dates” 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 Haley’s 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 seven… then ten… then 12… as Haley — tall, graceful and possessed of Texan charm — 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 that’s what we get. Bad Dates is fun, “cute,” the clothes are amazing, and under Eric Ting’s 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.)

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