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February 14, 2006

Theater Review - Bad Dates

I did it. I couldn’t pass up a pair of blue-black, fake snakeskin, stiletto ankle boots. For $2.50, how could I?

Haley Walker also might have the same trouble. She’s the restaurant manager in Actors Theatre’s production of Theresa Rebeck’s “Bad Dates.” Haley says she doesn’t have a fetish, but the racks and racks of shoes in her New York City apartment say otherwise. Chanel pumps, Jimmy Choo spike heels and any designer shoe that hurts — but fits — are going home with her. “Bad Dates,” however, is better suited for window shopping. The one-woman play is cute and hip and led by the talented Susan Riley Stevens, but listening to Haley relive her less-than-spectacular dating life doesn’t make you want to buy.

Haley is a single mother who moved to New York City from Texas after a failed relationship. She manages an eatery owned by Romanian mobsters and, after a few years of living only with her teenage daughter, she is ready to date. As she prepares for her nights out, she tries on shoes and shimmies into dresses while telling the audience her life story. Stevens, a Louisville native, excels at engaging the audience. She winks, makes faces and laughs with audience members while posing in exquisite shoes, tossing her blond shoulder-length hair, tugging on pantyhose and strutting her long legs across scenic designer Paul Owen’s cozy, pink-carpeted bedroom.

As Haley relates her dates (a man who describes his colonoscopy during dinner, a law professor who might be a homosexual and a man involved with another woman), Stevens expertly moves her character through the emotions associated with dating: hesitant hope, expectancy, rejection. Stevens, directed by William McNulty, is particularly excellent when Haley suffers the shame and embarrassment of realizing she was about to have a romantic rendezvous with a man otherwise involved.

Stevens holds the audience’s attention throughout the nearly two-hour performance. Haley’s emotions are accessible and familiar, but it is frustrating that Haley doesn’t accept that dating is not a perfect process. She chuckles at the old saying — “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince” — but she is not content to wait for a glass slipper, the shoe she most wants to try on.

Once she drops the guise of a desperate dater, she recognizes a princely possibility. Unfortunately, she finds him through an ill-fitting and rushed subplot about stealing from her mob bosses to pay the taxes for the restaurant.

“Bad Dates” comes just a few weeks before Actors will stage Rebeck’s next play, “The Scene,” during the upcoming Humana Festival of New American Plays. “The Scene” is set to be a darker comedy than “Bad Dates.” Rebeck co-wrote a previous Humana Festival selection, the hit “Omnium-Gatherum,” about the politics and emotions surrounding 9/11.