Theresa Rebeck’s “Bad Dates” delivers on its title. Haley lines up tales of three or four guys who wasted her evening through various means.
Rebeck, though, sought to write more than just a kvetch session. The 90-minute solo show, which features Sara Marsh at Bloomington Center for the Arts, stretches into a character study of a woman who has 600 pairs of designer shoes, skirts the edges of a cash-laundering mob and yearns for Mr. Right.
The 2003 play is a good vehicle for Marsh, who has piled up a good chunk of work over the past decade. She has brought along one of her favorite directors, Mel Day, to watch her dive headlong into Rebeck’s script.
Scenic designer Eli Schlatter litters a cozy bedroom (tellingly, with photos of Audrey Hepburn on the wall) with dozens of Givenchy, Gucci, Chanel shoe boxes. Marsh’s Haley starts the show charmingly schooling us in what a woman goes through in balancing great-looking footwear with piercing discomfort.
Then it’s on to a little bio: She and hubby split; she ended up working in a restaurant run by Romanian mobsters. She muses on the similarities of her situation and that of “Mildred Pierce,” and asks her 13-year-old daughter for advice on which outfits look good.
All the while, she’s wiggling into this outfit, then that, trying to find the right combination because, as she says with portent, she has a date.
We know how that ends up, and the next one and the next. Then in a twist, the play revisits the money-laundering folks to tidy up a sweet ending. Haley is fragile, ethically ambiguous, a little brittle but also sloppy — is she drunk in some scenes, or high? — and prone to sharing too much information.
Marsh’s challenge in all this is to create an idiosyncratic character who is not a bundle of gestures and chewy gimmicks. I wish I could say she succeeds, but she succumbs to the temptation of taking Haley over the top. Day should have reeled her in, sat her down and asked, “What’s the core of this person? Does she have a core? Does she have a beating heart in there?” The director lets her actor become self-indulgent.
Rebeck, after all, would have us at a point of emotional resonance, empathizing with Haley’s wistful need to warm someone’s shoulder. Relationships are important to her — kicky and wacky as she is.
Marsh and Day have the quirks in spades; Marsh looks perfect for the role and her energy never flags. But she and Day should have demanded more honest moments, should have dug into what makes Haley a human. Makes her us.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune theater critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.