When Haley lived in Austin, Texas (perfect accent), a high fashion discount shoe store beckoned so constantly she ended up with 600 pair. Having relocated, we meet her in a New York bedroom filled with pristine designer shoes and boxes, anxiously dressing for the first date she’s had since divorce. She chatters, repeatedly changes dresses and shoes, then goes down the hall to get young daughter Vera’s opinion – an open door, blasting music.
The Romanian family restaurant at which Haley started as a waitress was closed for money laundering. When another branch of the family arrived to reopen, she was the only one who knew what was going on. The novice was given free rein and created a roaring success. “Apparently I’m a restaurant idiot savant!” That was five years ago. “Guys” hit on her, but business and Vera came first. It’s time to get back in the game.
A first attractive possibility is turned away when a friend tells Haley to watch the film Mildred Pierce about another single mother “restaurant savant” whose handsome lover takes up with her daughter leading to tragedy. Next Haley meets “the bug guy,” nicknamed because of wincing table conversation about insects at a benefit for Tibetan books to which she’s given a free ticket. The third is a disastrous blind date her mother sets up. “I was thinking George Stephanopoulos with a cute accent.” Not. Or maybe, but with an enormous ego, few manners, and a disqualifying secret.
An exciting possibility leads to several dates, but he’s not, she discovers at the VERY last minute, unencumbered. Each encounter is prepared for (wardrobe is marvelous), then rehashed upon return. Telephone calls with friends add verisimilitude.
That Haley doesn’t abandon each of these men when it’s clear things are terribly wrong indicates insecurity, genuine curiosity about human nature, and a dollop of niceness many would jettison under similar circumstances. Descriptions of what was said and going through her mind are querulous, regretful, wry, and authentic. We’ve all suffered similar outings.
Both Haley and Andrea Burns are appealing and sympathetic. Burns is charming. It seems as if the actress is recalling events on the spot. She’s practically never still, whirling around the room engaged in a terrific variation of credible stage business. Her timing is as impeccable as all over pacing. We believe hope, disappointment, incredulousness, denial, and self-recrimination. Use of the room (and hallway) never feel manufactured. Outfits are changed with discretion. Direction is top notch.
The heroine is photographed from diverse angles making motion seem palpable. I could’ve done without shots of her feet and two reflected in a mirror seem insecure. Otherwise cinematography is quite good. Bridging photography- streets/restaurants, indicating dates – is evocative.
On the night Haley comes closest to finally having sex, the restaurant calls with unexpectedly dangerous news. Acting out of character, she faces the situation (about which we’ve had hints) head on with the help of an unlikely savior…and learns a few things.
I’ve always been a fan of playwright Theresa Rebeck. Her characters are whole, situations intriguing, outcomes often surprising. Here she furthers my belief that subject matter bends to her, rather than vice versa.
An excellent play, well produced – if just a tad long.
The George Street Playhouse presents
Bad Dates by Theresa Rebeck
Starring Andrea Burns
Directed by Peter Flynn
Lisa Zinni- Costumes
Helen Tewksbury- Props
Hudson Flynn- Cinematography and Editing
Available online through March 14, 2021.
Photos courtesy of the production.