By ALAN SMASON
Anyone who knows Theresa Rebeck’s writing knows she has a devilish sense of humor that has an odd way of popping up at the most opportune, yet unexpected moments. Her writing style has been marked by very taut scripts that say what is absolutely necessary with no countenance given for extra phrases or remarks, probably something she picked up while writing for TV franchises like “Law and Order.”
Knowing this, it is somewhat surprising that the playwright of Mauritius and Seared would admit that her one-woman show Bad Dates took four years to refine and finalize. With a felicity of expression that gives superb insight into the world of adult singles dating, Rebeck provides Andréa Burns (In the Heights, On Your Feet!) with the fodder she needs to realize a portrayal of a woman who craves male companionship and shoes, although not necessarily in that order.
Burns sizzles and sparkles as Haley, a single parent trying to raise a teenage daughter, run a barely legitimate restaurant that only takes cash and still find time to search for love in all the wrong places.
A production of the George Street Playhouse with David Saint as artistic director, Bad Dates is the first of a series of four virtual shows available to stream on demand for 24 hours.
For Burns it turned out to be a family affair. When Saint first proposed his season, he thought about gathering subscribers into his facility and safely, socially distancing. The COVID protocols were daunting to say the least and no one indicated they were particularly interested in venturing out to see a show if that act put them into danger.
The risk also was borne by performers and one infected person could shut down an entire run. At first, one-person shows were mulled to cut down on the potential risk to both the audience and the technical staff. Even that seemed unlikely to result in a profitable venture.
Fellow producer and playhouse board member Sharon Karmazin offered an alternative. She suggested they use her vacant New Jersey home with ample space to film upstairs in the bedroom of the only on-stage character, while a pod lived downstairs and followed safety protocols. The filmed piece could then be safely streamed to season subscribers and, additionally, to those who might never have journeyed to New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Saint offered the role of Haley to Burns and the directorship of the film project to her stage director husband Peter Flynn. Flynn had already directed at the George St. Playhouse, so that made sense. But Flynn had never directed a film before. It immediately dawned on them that their 17-year-old son, Hudson, an award winning cinematographer in his own right, might fit the bill. Besides, they already were living in a pod. This just meant they would “vacation” in place.
The shoot took place over a nearly a two-week period in January and the film was edited earlier this month by Hudson Flynn. Burns was pleased in so many ways. She was finally out of her own quarantined home in New York and her entire family was at work in a creative piece in which she starred.
Then there were the shoes.
Rebeck’s script calls for dozens of high fashion shoes to populate the stage, a clever way to emphasize the lengths ladies will go to put themselves into tortuous situations for the sake of appearances. A woman’s attraction in buying shoes is found in her hopes that she will be made ever more attractive by their color, their shape and their tilt. Painfully trying to fit inside a pair of shoes for the sake of fashion is not unlike dating a man who, likewise, is a very bad fit.
When we are introduced to Haley, Burns with a slight Texas twang expresses her character’s unrequited love with shoes. “I can’t wear shoes anymore. You know it’s not that you can’t wear them, but you start to go, oh god, these things hurt, it’s like having your foot caught in a bear trap!”
Yet, no matter how much the lady doth protest, scene after scene reveals boxes of shoes stacked high. It seems she buys shoes to make herself feel better, but discards them when they become associated with a failed relationship.
One shoebox has no shoes, though, and it does bear special interest. It is stuffed with cash and the reason becomes evident as Haley explains she works at a cash-0nly restaurant in New York City established by Romanians as a way to launder ill-gotten gains. After the Romanians are arrested in a round-up, Haley makes the place run well and keeps it running while the criminals are carted off to jail.
Under tremendous stress as a single mother, Haley explains that not all the family owners are mobbed up. They turn to her to run the restaurant and she begins to legitimize the business, paying taxes and the like to keep the 17 employees gainfully working. She muses: “Apparently, I am sort weird restaurant idiot savant. Who knew?”
As the boxes of shoes can attest, she also occasionally justifies the purchase of pumps or the selection of stilettos as a well-earned perk for keeping the place humming.
Burns is positively buoyant in this piece with so many opportunities to bring her sassy style to the character of Haley. As it turns out, occasionally a date may go well and it is during that time we see how like a giddy schoolgirl, she is head over heels and ready to buy new shoes.
The piece is punctuated by a few establishment shots to represent transition and the passage of time for her dates, but most all of the scenes take place in her bedroom or down the hallway when she is talking to the open door belonging to her daughter Vera. Though we never see her, her loud and throbbing music fills the scene.
No spoilers here, but Bad Dates does end on an uplifting note and a happy truth about the condition of man and the need for women and men to support each other. Not unlike those shoes.
Bad Dates by Theresa Rebeck, a film project of the George Street Playhouse, is the first of four shows announced for its 2021 season. Shows are 99 minutes and cost $33 each or $132 for the season. Bad Dates is streaming on demand now through March 14. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.
Director: Peter Flynn
Cinematographer: Hudson Flynn
Stage Manager: Samantha Flint
Costume Design: Lisa Zinni
Lighting Design: Alan C. Edwards
Original Music and Sound Design: Ryan Rummery
Hair/Make-Up: Dorothy Petersen
Set/Props: Helen Tewksberry
Artistic Director: David Saint
Executive Producer: Sharon Karmazin