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Friday, March 23, 2012

Theater review: Bad Dates

Posted By on Fri, Mar 23, 2012 at 4:21 PM

There are some telling differences between Collaborative Arts’ original 2006 production of Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates and the current Bad Dates 2.0, playing through March 31. Six years ago, director Elise Wilkinson rented a condo down in SouthPark to stage the one-woman show, with Laurie Riffe starring as Haley Walker in a cozy living room. Now Wilkinson is inviting us back — to the Duke Energy Theatre at Spirit Square with a new Haley, Kim Watson Brooks.

And it’s 2012.

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I like to think that I’m colorblind, but after seeing Brooks’ wonderfully confident and vivacious portrayal of Haley, I have to ask myself: back in 2006, wouldn’t I have minded a black woman portraying a New York waitress-turned-restaurant-manager with ties to the Romanian mob? Wouldn’t I have noticed that the only strike against one of her prospective suitors was that he looked like the cad tormenting Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce? Or would her irreverence really be the only thing setting her apart at a Buddhist book fair?

In 2012, none of these things troubled me a bit. I presume the “bug guy” she met at the book fair and the lookalike Mildred Pierce tormentor were both white, now that I think about it, but as Brooks primped nervously for her frogs — the ones a divorced mother with a 12-year-old daughter in the next room must brace herself to kiss, embarking on her 30-something quest for a fresh prince — the only race that mattered to me was the human race and Haley’s happiness.

Brooks’ age may actually be more appropriate for somebody who relies on a 12-year-old for fashion guidance, and she easily overcomes the disparity between Duke Energy Theatre and Unit 537 in establishing a confiding intimacy with the audience. Wilkinson and set designer Stan Peal help bring us closer to the condo ambiance, adding four loveseats flanking the downstage area in front of the usual stadium seats at the Duke. Very comfy.

A little mileage also helps Brooks as she’s struggling to put on pairs of shoes she hasn’t worn in years — or returning to her apartment totally wiped out by a bad date. They all aren’t bad as Haley dishes to us about a Columbia law prof, a drip who babbles about his colon, the Bug Guy, and the Mildred Pierce slickster. Yes, there’s some regressive teeny-bopper gushing amid the war stories. If the title has you fearing a feminist orgy of guy bashing, that should be reassuring.

Fact is, Bad Dates may actually be the ticket for a good date. Rebeck makes it more than primping and gossip, keeping us engaged with little plot twists and injecting a family crisis at just the right time to set us up for an emphatic ending. The six scenes speed by in 83 minutes, giving Brooks the chance to prove she’s just as appealing in comedy as she is in drama.

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