"Bad Dates" - currently in its final week - is something of a departure for Geva. It's a small, cutesy, one-woman show that would seem too intimate for the theater's main stage. But a big set and a bigger performance do a good job filling the space. Unfortunately, they outshine the play itself, a bizarre script that fails to meet certain expectations and completely baffles others.
Our date for "Bad Dates" is Haley, a single Southern mom who escaped a bad marriage, grabbed her daughter, and fled across country to New York City to live out her dreams. She gets herself a great rent-controlled apartment and a job she likes as a waitress, and when the Romanians running her restaurant get thrown in the clink for some shady business, she discovers that she makes a pretty amazing restaurant manager. Now, after 10 years of focusing on her career and her daughter, Haley's trying the dating scene again. As we watch her get ready for date after date, she shares every little detail of her life.
And I mean every little detail. What she ate for dinner, her brother's coming-out story, the full transcripts of entire conversations she's had - everything. She also takes time to expound on her shoe addiction, supported by a special shop back in Texas and evidenced by the boxes and boxes (and boxes) of high-heeled footwear that are progressively revealed as Haley moves about her bedroom set.
The shoe gag is one of the funnier bits in the show, and that's not meant as a compliment. "Bad Dates" has been promoted as a perfect fit for the "Sex and the City" fan. I suppose that's true, if that fan were more preoccupied with Carrie Bradshaw's Manolos than with her rapacious wit. (Seriously, there are some pretty cute shoes on that stage.) "Bad Dates" has a couple of chuckle-baiting lines, but the script just isn't particularly funny. Charming, perhaps.But funny? Not really. And given that the subject for the most part is how utterly clueless and awful men are, there is ample grist for that mill. Even the titular bad dates aren't really thatbad. (I've forgotten worse dates than this lady has apparently been on; call me when the person across the table from you surveys the dining room and tells you which fellow diners he can safely bench press. On your first date.)
To be fair, the audience laughed more than I did, but I don't think I heard one gut-buster all night. And given that it's a two-hour show, that's a long time to go without a serious guffaw when the show is ostensibly a comedy.
Susannah Schulman as Haley does her very best to wring maximum entertainment value out of the script. She throws every bit of energy she's got into her role. At first I thought she was perhaps trying too hard, but no - she's just that woman, the one who takes over dinner parties with her "funny" stories and wild gesticulations. She is alternately sweet and sassy, affable and driven, vindictive and compassionate. She is nearly impossible not to like, and it's only because of the connection we make with her that the second act works at all.
About that second act: I literally turned to my companion and asked if we'd walked into the wrong play after intermission. Act I is all about Haley's adventures in dating, the stupidity of men, gender politics, and shoes. It's pretty light, frothy stuff. Act II suddenly concerns tax evasion, money laundering, embezzlement, and the Romanian mafia. There are some hints peppered throughout the first act, but it's such a massive tonal shift that I'm still perplexed as to why the writer, Theresa Rebeck, chose to employ it.
One explanation can be found in Rebeck's bio: she has previously written for cop shows, including one of the "Law & Order" programs. (Haley even comments that her experience at the police precinct was so like TV cop shows - the dirtiness, the mug books, the interrogation rooms - that she felt oddly comforted.) I'm a firm believer in the adage "write what you know," but when what you know is apparently hardcore crime drama, I question the wisdom behind shoving it into a story that concerns a sweet single mom trying to find a boyfriend.
Through March 30
GevaTheatreCenter, 75 Woodbury Blvd
232-4382 | gevatheatrecenter.org