The title conjures a jeremiad on the frustrating pursuit of romance out there in the ridiculous world, with its unwritten rules and looming perils and disappointments poised to gobble optimism gradually or sometimes, suddenly, completely and without mercy. Theresa Rebeck’s play, running two hours with an interval, is quite a bit more. A few years ago I saw Denise Lee in Lady Day at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas and wonder why they don’t do more shows like, say, The Belle of Amherst, Golda’s Balcony, and Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein. The subject of those plays are famous women, of social and historical interest. Bad Dates is a page from the journal of Haley (Shannon J. McGrann) a single mother who migrated to New York from San Antonio, Texas, with her daughter, Vera. So naturally, we assume she is easier to identify with. Her opening reflections on women and shoe culture, flirts with being quaint and precious, but her enthusiasm make it easy to appreciate, and she moves on pretty quickly.
It’s hard to miss the enormous, hot pink, rubber bouncy ball toy that Haley sometimes uses throughout her extensive monologue. (Though it doesn’t feel like a monologue.) Or the meaning behind that precarious perch in her very girly, chipper, sometimes chaotic bedroom. Act one begins with an explosion of shoes, while act two feels less disheveled. In stark contrast to content. She talks to us, avidly, confidentially about her daughter, her job (manager of a tony restaurant that also happens to launder money) her friends, and the men she goes out with. Rebeck, McGrann, and director Robin Armstrong avoid pandering by making Haley genuine enough to be convincing but virtuous enough to regret pettiness others would dismiss. Attempting to punish a gay date for possibly bearding, she only winds up looking foolish.
This is why I was surprised by Bad Dates. (Though I shouldn’t have been.) I think we sympathize with the women in our lives. With their plights and triumphs. But consistent with numerous other CTD offerings, it makes a quantum leap into deeper issues and the less flattering details that spell the difference between a valentine to the *WOMAN* placed on a pedestal, and a serious exploration of actual individuals, who are beautiful because of their flaws, not in spite of them. Bad Dates doesn’t cater to pop culture or condescending paradigms. It shares those moments when Haley is giddy, dejected, furious, wounded. The underpinnings of girlishness serve, I think, to expose the terror we all feel, underneath, of coping in the dangerous, adult world of the unknown. Today’s adventure might be tomorrow’s nightmare. Or a glorious opportunity.
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas Presents Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates, playing October 21st – November 13th, 2011. 5601 Sears Street, Dallas, TX 75206. 214.828.0094 www.contemporarytheatreofdallas.com.