Want to assure a good date? See ‘Bad Dates’

 

Haneefah Wood in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Bad Dates, directed by Jessica Stone, playing January 26 – February 25, 2018, Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. © Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

BOSTON – The Huntington Theatre Company’s current production of “Bad Dates” by Theresa Rebeck is an example of a different actress giving such a different take on a character that it feels like a completely new show.

The 2004 production of “Bad Dates” at the Huntington starring Julie White had the same dialogue, the same mountain of shoes and outfits to try on and discard, and was extremely well-received by the general public and critics alike.

The fact that the current production at the Huntington features Haneefah Wood, an African-American actress, as Haley Walker, does account for a lot of that difference, but not all of the feeling that you’re completely rediscovering the piece.

Wood’s take is a bit brighter and breezier than White’s, and her Haley is a sharp and sassy sort.

Ultimately, there is no wrong answer and both productions succeed in effectively selling the story of a woman finding her footing when she happens to be in the right place at the right time when the restaurant she is working is invaded by the Feds, and she’s one of the survivors.

Indeed, Haley is a survivor, having fled a broken marriage and made her way in New York working as a waitress. When she gets her break and becomes the manager of a restaurant owned and operated by the Romanian mob, her skills allow the restaurant to becomes trendy and profitable.

Now, finally with a sense of security, the single mother with a teenage daughter is ready to explore what the male of the species has to offer.

There is no fourth wall at all between Haley and the audience. During the 90 minutes of the production, she will spend much of the time trying on shoes and outfits, seeking the audience’s input, dishing about her life and its ups and down, her failed relationships in the past, her daughter Vera and, yes, the bad dates she has recently embarked on.

They include a blind date set up by her mother, in which she is hilariously mismatched with a 43-year-old law professor from Columbia.

Then there’s the guy on the rebound who’s obsessed with cholesterol and the former flame who reignites but almost as quickly flames out again after a planned romantic evening sinks without a trace.

Then there’s the gay brother who’s urging her to get out there and get involved.

Haley admits to being a risk taker and we learn she has been – ahem – skimming off the top of the cashbox, very possible at an all-cash establishment set up to launder money.

When things go south, the so-called “Bug Guy” – part of a Buddhist dinner that was yet another catastrophe – will dramatically re-emerge.

It’s almost a theatrical cliché at this point to mention it, but “Bad Dates” is another in a long list of superb sets from the Huntington’s nonpareil set designers, this time Alexander Dodge rendering Haley’s spacious, well-appointed bedroom.

Director Jessica Stone guides Wood through the numerous pitfalls awaiting anyone essentially performing a 90-minute monologue, and because of that, Woods’ own talent, and Rebeck’s writing skills, any date you set up to see “Bad Dates” is likely to be a good one.

The Huntington Theatre Company production of “Bad Dates.” Written by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Jessica Stone At the Huntington Avenue Theatre through Feb. 25. huntingtontheatre.org.

 

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