Most men will probably never fathom the strange intimacy women have with their shoes, or their whole relationship with clothes in general for that matter. And while Theresa Rebeck's funny, fluffy one woman show "Bad Dates", now running at the Seattle Rep's Leo K Theatre won't necessarily make the mystery any clearer, at least the men in the audience won't feel completely out-of-touch with her hilarious observations on the nature of that equally strange, but decidedly more understandable courtship ritual known as "dating".
Haley Walker (Anne Allgood) is an ex-pat Texan with a string of bad relationships who treks to New York with her now 12 year-old daughter and some 600 pairs of shoes in tow, in hopes of a better life. She finds it in the form of a Manhattan restaurant run by shady Romanians, and when the "owner" is sent up on federal racketeering charges, she's left running the place to stereotypical fabulous success. Now secure in her career, she decides to plunge back into the romance scene, and the story opens with her preparations for her first date in some five years.
In the hands of Empty Space Theatre Artistic Director Allison Narver, "Bad Dates" sashays along through Haley's experiences with the men she meets, each more ridiculously ill-fated than the previous one, to the point where she actually makes an apology to the men in the audience for her apparent "male bashing" attitude. While the energy drops off noticeably about two-thirds of the way through, in large part due to a shift in focus from Haley's romantic missteps to a subplot involving the release of her former boss from prison, Narver keeps Rebeck's witty monologue bubbling along at a brisk pace, and gives Allgood enough grounding to provide the theatrical gimmick of speaking directly to the audience a confidential sense of intimacy, as Haley shares her hopes, fears and frustrations.
Allgood carries the performance with an ingratiating charm that easily wins over both sexes. With just a hint of a West Texas drawl spicing her delivery, she draws us into her private ruminations, as though we were having an extended telephone conversation, a device paralleled in her frequent chats with her gay brother. Throughout, Haley comes across as a genuinely likeable, albeit somewhat superficially opinionated professional woman, whom any reasonably eligible man would find appealing, and in whom most women would no doubt find a kindred spirit. In her, we all vicariously relive our own horrific experiences in the dating scene, and it's inevitable that we will relate with her failures, all the while rooting for some eventual success, which Rebeck tantalizingly suggests may be in her future.
Scott Weldin's cluttered New York rent-controlled bedroom setting provides a decent backdrop for Haley's pre and post-date musings, although one has to wonder about the likelihood of such a picture-perfect space being found anywhere but in some Hollywood depiction. At the same time, the 20 or so pairs of shoes mounted across the proscenium provide a whimsical framing device for the set, especially when they flash rhythmically to the beat of the choice muscial selections assembled by Sound Designer Steve LeGrande, which instantly clue us in to the relative success or failure of each of Haley's encounters. Lighting Designer Connie Yun occasionally taxes the audience's eyesight by dimming the lights way down in key moments; it seems unnecessary to focus so intensely onto such a small area when the stage is already fairly small and only occupied by a single performer to boot. Costume Designer Melanie Burgess goes way above-and-beyond the call of duty, providing Allgood with a veritable cornucopea of footware, everything from pumps, flats, sandals, high heels, boots, sneakers, you name it, in every color and style imaginable (although nowhere near the 600 hundred hinted at), along with a seemingly endless ensemble of outfits which Haley can mix-and-match to wild abandon.
"Bad Dates" is not the kind of play that will impart any surprising insights, at least not to anyone who's been in similar circumstances and spent more than five minutes in sober self-examination, but the combination of witty writing and an immensely appealing performance more than makes up for the lack of depth. And for anyone wanting to avoid turning their own first date into the kind of unmitigated disasters it describes, "Bad Dates" would be a very good bet.
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