note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Haley … Julie White
Understudy … Melinda Lopez
Julie White, a familiar face from television, makes a smashing return to the Huntington in Teresa Rebeck’s one-woman comedy BAD DATES, which charts the (mis)adventures of Haley, an Indian summer woman, single parent and restaurant manager, as she re-enters the New York dating arena. Trying on and shedding apparel like snake skins and digging through mountains of shoes to find a complimentary pair, Haley confides to the audience her guarded hopes before and her wry recounting afterwards of yet another encounter with that odd species, Man --- in the end, Haley’s white knight turns out to be (surprise!) the one she least expected. Ms. Rebeck’s writing goes from the sketchy to the dramatic and back again but is always witty, occasionally moving and --- judging by the spontaneous applause, groans and exclamations from women in the audience --- hits home, often (i.e., “Men!”), and she keeps Haley’s male-bashing more or less on the sunny side though some might object to Haley’s blind date with a gay man which is geared for easy laughs; granted, the man turns out to be a total shit just like Haley’s other dates yet the underlying current flows through the old notion that a man who sexually prefers his own gender is less than a man and deserves to be mocked; a sweeter solution would be to have the man kindly suggest some fashion tips to Haley for her next date which, judging by her current wardrobe, she could certainly use. (To balance things, Ms. Rebeck gives Haley a gay brother as a phone confidante but, then, she isn’t dating him, so that makes him all right.)
Since Ms. Rebeck wrote BAD DATES specifically for Ms. White’s talents, I can safely assume that Ms. White plays Haley the way she is meant to be played; that is, with plenty of warmth, dogged good-heartedness and an appealing vulnerability, not unlike Brett Butler’s title character from the TV series GRACE UNDER FIRE, where Ms. White played the wild next-door neighbor Nadine. BAD DATES is clearly a vehicle and Ms. White is so entertaining at the wheel that you may not notice (or choose to ignore) that Ms. Rebeck’s plot tends to ramble en route to its trumped-up happy ending, and fellow actor/director John Benjamin Hickey has brought out all of the relaxed yet perky charm in his leading lady and friend. Set designer Derek McLane has come up with a convincingly cluttered pastel-blue bedroom --- EveryWoman’s workshop, where personas are created on a daily basis --- though the infamous vastness of the Boston University stage renders it the size of an entire Manhattan apartment, complete with doorman; its rent would cost an arm and a leg, for starters. That must be some restaurant that Haley is managing, even if it is run by a clan of shady Romanians.