Review: ‘Bad Dates’ at Act II Playhouse

Bad Dates, by Theresa Rebeck, is the third one-person play I’ve seen in the past two months. The others were 2.5 Minute Ride, an autobiographical drama by Lisa Kron which was produced at Theatre Horizon, and Buyer & Cellar, a satirical comedy by Jonathan Tollins staged by 1812 Productions. Compared to them, Bad Dates is at a disadvantage.

Karen Peakes. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Karen Peakes. Photo by Mark Garvin.

2.5 Minute Ride has the best structure: The protagonist purports to show slides of family photos to an audience, and her conversation expands from that starting point. Buyer & Cellar has a narrator in a single chair, speaking directly to us. Rebeck chose to set her protagonist (Karen Peakes) in a bedroom, where we see dozens of dresses on hangers and hundreds of shoes on shelves and in boxes. She talks to us in the audience, but who are we supposed to be, and why are we in her bedroom?

All of the paraphernalia distracts attention from the woman, a New York restaurant manager named Haley. What’s more, the first five minutes of her monologue is entirely about shoes – and then she tries on and rejects a series of dresses. This is alienating; and it indicates the character’s shallowness. The rest of the 85-minute play is devoted to Haley’s adventures on dates, which she reports to us each morning after.

Karen Peakes. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Karen Peakes. Photo by Mark Garvin.

I am reminded of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, who adored glamorous shoes – but this was only one facet of a character with many other interests, and with a coterie of close friends to whom she was devoted.

Haley lacks those dimensions. And the unseen characters (such as Haley’s 13-year-old daughter, and Haley’s dates) are not brought to life as the other people are by the narrators in Kron’s and Tollins’s plays. Haley is an obsessive person who is intolerant of gay men, of Romanians, and of Manhattanites who choose to dine in Brooklyn. She prattles about all the faults of each man she meets, yet she insists on dictating the wine on first dates, with no awareness that some men will find that to be controlling.

Peakes is an excellent actress with a pleasing persona; neither she nor director Elaina Di Monaco can be faulted, because all of their actions are dictated by Rebeck’s script. This is one of those instances when fine, professional work cannot make up for inadequate content. Dirk Durossette and Claire Leitner artfully designed and assembled the set, James Leitner did the lighting, and Jillian Keys provided the plethora of outfits.

I must admit that my wife liked the play. Although I loathe to label anything a “woman’s play,” I suspect that many of those who find substance in Bad Dates will be female. Or perhaps the more you identify with Haley’s tribulations, the more likely you’ll be to have a good time at Bad Dates.

Running Time: 85 minutes, with no intermission.

Karen Peakes. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Karen Peakes. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Bad Dates plays through December 31, 2017 at Act II Playhouse – 56 E. Butler Avenue in Ambler, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 654-0200, or purchase them online.