In this virtual production of Theresa Rebeck’s 2003 one-woman comedy, Andréa Burns portrays Haley Walker, a Texas divorcee who moved with her daughter and her 600 pairs of shoes to Manhattan, where she found a job in a restaurant run by Romanian gangsters. Her job is not as bad as it sounds. But her dating life is. She goes through a string of bad dates that she tells us about afterwards; one dinner date talks only about his cholesterol level and his colonoscopy.
The premise of “Bad Dates” reminded me of one of those screen montages where our hero or heroine sits through a series of quick encounters with one awful person after another, stupid or stuffy or crude. I always find these quick-hit dating scenes less funny and more cruel than is surely intended.
Now, nobody would mistake “Bad Dates” for “Romeo and Juliet.” But this production by the George Street Theater, streaming through March 14th, maneuvers around the worst missteps of the genre. Andréa Burns performance makes this show work better than it probably should, and Theresa Rebeck’s writing is…crafty.
Take a scene about halfway through the play that might have turned me against it. Haley’s mother back in Texas has set her up in a blind date with someone who sounds perfect – a fellow Texan in New York, a law professor, and when she sees him from a distance, “Oh boy this guy is way cute so I’m feelin’ good. And I go to the bar to meet my date, and he’s gay…I’m on a date with a gay man…”
She goes on about this, but then starts saying maybe she’s wrong; after all, she didn’t realize her brother was gay until he told her, and then she telephones her brother – and he asks for the law professor’s phone number. Rebeck thus sidesteps what could easily have fallen into a shtick indistinguishable from homophobia.
There is a typical amount of awkward stagecraft in making “Bad Dates” a monologue — those phone calls, for example, and Burns’ changing into and out of her outfits before or after a date. (She’s always recounting or anticipating, never in the moment.). But this also allows for some amusing ingenuity — whenever Haley tries to talk to her 13-year-old daughter Vera, all we get is Haley standing at the threshold of Vera’s room assaulted by a blast of electronic music.
There is craft also in the way the playwright plants little throwaway lines that later bear fruit unexpectedly. To pick one of the less implausible examples without spoiling anything, Haley’s friend tells her that she reminds her of Joan Crawford in “Mildred Pierce,” which Haley then watches. This winds up figuring in the plot, but it also eventually underscores a theme — the idea that the movies have created unrealistic expectations when we search for love.
At the same time, this production of “Bad Dates” might remind you a bit of old Hollywood, because of Andréa Burns’ performance. A Broadway veteran who is best-known for her roles in “On Your Feet” and “In The Heights,” Burns manages to make Haley simultaneously comic (with some priceless facial expressions and several laugh-out-loud lines), vulnerable and no-nonsense, far smarter than men give her credit for. She even occasionally cracks wise like the best of those tough Hollywood broads.
Haley might be single, but this production of “Bad Dates” is a Burns family affair. It’s directed by her husband Peter Flynn, and filmed and edited by her college-age son, Hudson Flynn.
Bad Dates is online through March 14 via George Street Theater
Running time: 90 minutes
Written by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Peter Flynn
Costume Design by Lisa Zinni
Lighting Design by Alan C. Edwards
Original Music and Sound Design by Ryan Rummery
Hair and Make up Design by Dorothy Petersen
Production Stage Manager Samantha Flint
Cinematography and Editing by Hudson Flynn