Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Expecting the play to be a string of anecdotes, one disastrous date after another, I was pleased to find there is more to it than thatan actual coherent plot. Some years ago, Haley left her bone-headed, drug-dealing ex-husband behind in Austin, Texas, scooped up their young daughter Vera, and moved to New York City to start anew. She finds a great rent-controlled apartment (truly an endangered species) and a job waitressing in a restaurant that is a front for a Rumanian money laundering operation. When the Rumanian mobsters are busted and sent to the clink, a manager is needed. Haley turns out to be the most competent person on staff and lands the gig. It turns out, as she describes herself, that she is a restaurant idiot-savant. After a rave in the New York Times the place becomes chez trendyheck, Leonardo DiCaprio had his birthday party there! Between the demands of work and parenting a now-teenaged Vera, Haley has had no time for romance. However, a riotous Tibetan Buddhist benefit dinner in a rainstorm leads her to the conclusion that it is time to start getting out.
Thus begin the dates. Actually, before the dates come, prepping for the dates, and Haley narrates her process of choosing from among her 600 pairs of designer shoes and assorted garments, with a good-humored mix of vanity and self-deprecation. Date one turns out to be horrible. Then another round of prepping, and another datethis time a blind date, which is no less horrible. A third date seems promising ... actually, it is a series of dates, incrementally lifting her hopes, untilI won't say it, but you know a play called Bad Dates has got to make its point by including at least three fiascos. Rebeck brightly ties it all together, though, with the Rumanian mobsters, the Buddhist benefit dinner, and one last date melding into a perfectly satisfying ending to Haley's travails. Oh, not a happily ever after ending, but likely to be happily enough for the present, which is really all Haley had in mind.
Interspersed with Haley's dating arc are such delights as her end of phone conversations with her gay brother B.J. and her well-intending match-making mother; calls down the hall for fashion advise from Vera; a ploy to stick one of her dates-from-hell with the dinner check; a meditation on why even when a date has clearly been a disaster, the guy expects sex; and strategizing to avert the wrath of the out-of-jail Rumanian kingpin. It is a delightful mix of completely mundane and totally unlikely events, and Marsh gives Haley enough spunk, resourcefulness, and a streak of virtue that makes it all work.
Rebeck wrote Bad Dates actor for Julie White, a gifted comedienne, who performed the role of Haley in the play's 2003 premiere Off-Broadway. Sara Marsh is a completely solid choice to take on the role of Haley, like White, able to convey both wit and manic energy. There are so many moments when Marsh just nails Haleyfor instance, when she check herself out in the full-length mirror after squeezing into a seductive outfit, and utters a guttural "Yeah!."
Director Mel Day, an Artistic Associate at Artistry, is well tuned to that vibrant theater's capabilities. She and Marsh have worked together in the past, so they know each other's strengths as well. In their last outing together, Day directed Marsh as the survivor of an attempted rape brutally subduing her assailant in Extremities. The tone of Bad Dates could not be more different, but in both cases, the results are fantastic. Day mines all the humor in Rebeck's comedy, finding it both in the situation at hand, and in Marsh's full throttle performance, but she keeps the production from running amok, never allowing Marsh's Haley to become a caricature, or the situations to strain credulity.
Eli Schlatter has designed a lived-in looking urban bedroom set, with views into Haley's disarrayed closet, her bathroom, and the hall to Vera's room. As props designer, Schlatter has filled the space up with the array of objects likely to be found in a woman such as Haley's bedroom, and blanketed the floor with shoes and shoeboxes sporting designer brands, a sampling of Haley's collection of 600 pairs. Annie Cady has devised costumes that make Haley appear a bit dowdy on one date, skanky on another, and points between.
Having a long history of solidly produced musicals, Artistry has been matching those efforts with non-musical plays. Their Talley's Folly in the fall gave that lovely romance a perfect sheen. Come back in the spring for a 180-degree turn, when they mount a play of utmost seriousness, Wit, starring no less than Sally Wingert. For the moment, with Bad Dates they display just how to mount a fizzy comedy, framed around a winning performance, that gives its audience a terrific time.
Bad Dates continues through February 26, 2017, in the Black Box Theater at Artistry, Bloomington Center for the Arts, 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, MN. Tickets: $28.00 - $30.00; Seniors, age 62 and up: $24:00 - $26.00; Age 18 and younger: $19.00 - $21.00. Student Rush for unsold seats, $10.00, available 15 minutes before the performance - valid ID required, limit two tickets, cash only. For tickets call 952-563-8375 or go to artistrymn.org.
Writer: Theresa Rebeck; Director: Mel Day; Set and Props Design: Eli Schlatter; Costume Design: Annie Cady ; Lighting Design: Mary Shabatura; Sound Design: Aaron Newman; ; Stage Manager: Jack Tillman; Production Manager/Technical Director: Chris Carpenter.
Cast: Sara Marsh (Haley)