The Dating Lame

Off-Ramp's Bad Dates is one.

Theresa Rebeck's one-woman show, Bad Dates, requires some suspension of disbelief from the audience. One must be willing to accept that a divorced, 40-year-old single mother who badmouths her one friend in the world, is self-absorbed, crassly materialistic and fairly reeks of desperation, is having difficulty finding the perfect man.

Hard to believe, isn't it?

All right, perhaps that's a bit harsh. Let's change "suspension" to "interruption." Much better.

A table for one: Haley Walker (Annie Fitzpatrick) has had plenty of Bad Dates.
Jerry Naunheim, Jr
A table for one: Haley Walker (Annie Fitzpatrick) has had plenty of Bad Dates.

Details

Through November 4 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $18 to $45 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.

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Haley Walker, played with fearless moxie by Annie Fitzpatrick, is a Texas transplant living in Greenwich Village. Through a series of stock events — criminal ex-husband causes her to leave Texas, she ends up working at a Romanian mob-run restaurant, head mobster's arrested, mobster's non-mob family realizes she's the perfect person to run the business legally, now she's the toast of the restaurant world — Haley has come to live in a divine rent-controlled apartment with 600 pairs of shoes and a teenage daughter, Vera. The shoes definitely come first in her life, but "her" restaurant is a close second. The never-seen Vera is probably in the top five; Numbers three and four would be finding a decent man who accepts her for her wonderful self, and just getting laid. From the comfort of her bedroom, Haley tries on outfits and shoes while pontificating about the difficulties she's encountered since she returned to the dating game. It's like a 90-minute episode of Sex and the City, but without the sex! Or a supporting cast! Or a scene change! Or a cosmopolitan, unless you smuggle your own into the theater (n.b.: recommended)!

Director Michael Evan Haney and Fitzpatrick do what they can with the nearly transparent character of Haley. Rebeck's setup for the play requires us to like Haley from the get-go — after all, we're going to spend 90 minutes with her and only her. Fitzpatrick punches the punch lines and throws in a few accents when imitating the various men who cross her path. It's a solid performance of lackluster material, which results in Fitzpatrick compensating for the pedestrian jokes, brand-name dropping and sitcom-lite observations on dating with some broad physical comedy, namely pulling faces, gesticulating wildly and overemphasizing words. If you sprinkled in some "Burger Kings," it's very much like watching a distaff Dane Cook.

And yet, at least half the audience laughs at every mention of "Jimmy Choo" and at every instance of tired dating lore. "Men will have sex with people they don't like — women won't do that," Haley reveals. "Well, that's not entirely true," she amends. (That's gold, Jerry!) An entire self-help industry has sprouted up around such platitudes, so who am I to argue? People like the familiar and the non-challenging. Bad Dates provides plenty of such familiar and non-challenging ideas in its first two-thirds. Strangely, when Haley is stood-up by a caddish rogue, the audience is stone quiet. Fitzpatrick convincingly cycles from felicitous anticipation to rock-bottom devastation in seconds — and there's no response. But when Haley laments the loss of a $400 pair of shoes, gasps ricochet around the room. Depth — no self-help book ever provides it.

Neither does Bad Dates, despite a sudden swerve into would-be morality play in the final twenty minutes of "action." Haley gives us a few words on rugged individualism and the perils of materialism, adds a few thoughts on Buddhism (a recurring theme), then wraps it all up with the magnificently vapid, "Maybe we're here because we need each other." Slap it on a T-shirt and make your mint.

 
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