“What kind of a cruel universe would do this to me?” asks Haley Walker in Theresa Rebeck’s one-woman play, “Bad Dates.” She’s referring to the fact that she can’t find a pair of shoes that fits. But she’s got bigger issues to deal with, too.
A middle-aged single mother with a fulfilling job as a restaurant manager, she hasn’t even considered dating for years, but her daughter is now a teenager, and she’s ready. Her dates, which she delivers monologues about in the scenes of the play, do not go well, at first. One guy won’t stop talking about his cholesterol and tells her her dress makes her look old; another turns out to be gay and supercilious.
Later, things to take a turn for the better. But then she encounters something bigger to worry about, and the play works its way to an ending that’s far from “happily ever after,” but still hopeful.
The George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, which can’t present live plays now because of the pandemic, is offering “Bad Dates” as the first of four plays in a “virtual season”; it can be streamed through March 14.
Broadway veteran Andréa Burns plays Haley, with her husband, Peter Flynn, serving as director, and their son, Hudson Flynn, doing the filming. Part of George Street Playhouse board member Sharon Karmazin’s house served as a “quarantine bubble” in which the filming was done (with COVID testing and other safety precautions), though some brief, actor-less shots, between scenes, of streets and restaurants, evoke the actual dates.
The production is, basically, just Burns talking, but she has a huge arsenal of facial tricks (the sly grin, the subtle hint of an eye roll, the commanding glare, the sad eyes accompanying an upbeat pronouncement, and so on) that allows her to add subtexts as she’s speaking. And Hudson Flynn does a good job of filming her at different angles or zeroing in on different parts of the apartment, so that the viewer feels there is constantly something new to look at.
Also, Rebeck gives her unseen, unheard people to talk to — her 13-year-old daughter, hanging out in her own room, and various people on the phone — so that the story is not just told through monologue, but sometimes by showing one part of a conversation.
Rebeck also isn’t afraid to make Haley a big, messy ball of contradictions. In other words, a real person. In one scene, Haley tells her daughter, “people don’t care about your clothes … who you are on the inside is more important,” even though Haley spends much of the play searching for the perfect pair of shows to wear on her dates, or fussing about the clothes she is wearing. And while she presents herself as a nonsense, common-sense kind of person, we eventually learn she has been shockingly reckless in one aspect of her life.
Learning that this was a one-woman play with the title of “Bad Dates,” I figured, okay, this will be a light, fun play about dating disasters. And it was that, at times. But through the strength of Rebeck’s writing and Burns’ performance, it delves deeper than I expected it to, and provides a strong start to George Street’s virtual season.
“Bad Dates” is available to stream through March 14 via the George Street Playhouse; visit georgestreetplayhouse.org.
Next up in the series is “Fully Committed,” written by Becky Mode and starring Maulik Pancholy. “Fully Committed” will run from March 23 to April 11.
Here is a trailer for “Bad Dates”:
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