Maybe thunderstorms really are a gift of The Buddha. Maybe owning too many pairs of shoes isn’t really such a bad thing. And maybe going out to see Bay Theatre Company’s production of Bad Dates is an excellent idea. In fact, not maybe, it is an excellent idea. In their first production since the company’s closure in May of 2013, Bay Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Janet Luby brings Theresa Rebeck’s one woman play— Bad Dates— to the stage. Directed by Richard Pilcher, this zany one-woman comedy is relatable to everyone, whether you’re on the dating scene or not.
Crafting a posh elegance into the New York City apartment is Set Designer Ken Sheats. There is something to be said for the trendy modern atmosphere in Hailey’s apartment, the vivid purple walls, mostly covered by bamboo-roller blinds that hide an innumerable amount of shoes. The bedroom is spacious, giving the illusion that she’s living the high life in Manhattan, and with her job running the restaurant, why not? Sheats’ design feels open yet not too broad giving the character enough space in which to wander freely without ever feeling like she’s moving without purpose from one side of the room to the other.
Costume Designer Maggie Masson helps authenticate the character’s confused existence when it comes to the dating world. Stocking her closet with garish combinations of hideous outfits that make Hailey look too old, too out of touch with fashion, and occasionally just right, Masson creates a playful universe that helps parallel the journey of Hailey’s dating misfortunes. The shoes are to die for. Even the hideous ones like the spiky hot pink stilettos have their place in this production and Masson should be commended for the sheer variety that fills every nook and cranny of the stage.
Director Richard Pilcher makes excellent use of the space given, choreographing a natural sense of blocking for Hailey’s story telling nature. Every piece of furniture on the set gets used, there is nothing superfluous, nor does anything feel like it was put there or used for the sake of existing in the bedroom. Pilcher seamlessly incorporates the vanity, bed, changing curtain, and little sitting ottoman into the work in a fashion that feels extremely relaxed, part of Hailey’s every day routine.
The other exceptional piece of Pilcher’s vision is realized in the non-existence character of Veta, Hailey’s teenage daughter. Pilcher crafts this off-stage character to vibrant life with the simple use of music, assisted by sound Designer Natalie Pilcher. Every time Hailey disappears off stage to confront her daughter, or seek out her fashion advice, the bedroom door opens and pop-modern music is heard pumping from somewhere else in the “apartment.” When Hailey (unseen by the audience) opens her daughter’s bedroom door, the music grows much louder. The Pilchers define this off-stage presence through the choice of music, fitting for a modern teenager that is constantly having emotional upheaval, and this simple sound trick really creates the sense that Hailey is having a conversation with another human being off stage.
Janet Luby, playing Hailey— the divorcee single mom of one and restaurant manager— is a sensation in this role. Finding the perfect balance between narrating a story and interacting with the audience, Luby is able to connect with her audience in a way that slightly dissolves the fourth wall that doesn’t involve a total annihilation of it. Giving an engaging performance, Luby brings a strong presence to the stage, not overbearing, but fully actualized in her characterization of this slightly unusual mother figure.
The unique approach to this production is the two-track narrative at the beginning of the production. Luby’s character unloads a great deal of exposition while simultaneously keeping the audience up to speed on what’s currently happening. She handles this with finesse and winds the two together into a rather comic series of stories punctuated by shoes, clothing, and other preparations that bring her closer to her date. Luby’s natural born ability to tell a story, presenting it in clear concise moments with emotional details that vividly paint the audience a picture of her reality is really a gem in this particular style of play.
Her ability to turn an intimate life story into casual conversation is both impressive and a little unsettling, but in a good way. Luby treats the audience as if we were all long lost friends playing catch-up with her character’s life throughout the duration of the performance. The truly inspiring moment of Luby’s performance is near the end of the production where she unearths an emotional humanity in the character, taking her from the slightly vapid storyteller whose life never really delves beneath the surface of reality into a much heavier and emotionally grounded place.
The mellowed Zen-style meltdown that essentially transforms the Hailey character into a place of acceptance is really quite touching and binds the rest of the story together in a picturesque and charming fashion. Luby brings a relatable aspect to this character, reaching out to the audience so that we feel Hailey’s plight, laugh at Hailey’s predicaments, and enjoy her story as it unfolds before our eyes.
A great comic evening with a little bit of heartfelt emotion tied in, this is the perfect production to welcome the Bay Theatre Company back to the stage after a long hiatus.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Janet Luby on Starring in ‘Bad Dates’ and What’s Happening at Bay Theatre Company by Amanda Gunther.