Shoes, dudes, and a lady talking about her dating blues. “Bad Dates” is pretty close to being great.
The one-woman play, written by Theresa Rebeck, focuses on a single mom of an indeterminate age raising her 13-year-old daughter in New York City. The mother, played by Laura Rikard, has made a series of bad choices in her life stemming from marrying a drug dealer in Texas to waitressing in a restaurant serving as a front for the Romanian mob to her own dip into embezzlement.
The plot is rather entertaining and Rikard (who serves as co-director along side Eric Gibson) does a remarkable job of luring the audience into her character’s emotionally damaged web. Around the 20-minute mark, Rikard has tricked everyone into thinking she’s our old pal, dishing casually about her miserably horrible dates. “Girlfriend, he talked about colonoscopies the whole time? Move on!”
This suspension of disbelief is due in large part to Rickard’s ability to respond naturally and fluidly to the audience’s reactions. Laugh at a line she delivers and she’ll point to the person, make eye contact and say, “She knows what I’m talking about,” or “You must be a mother.” She did this all so naturally, incorporating intuitive gestures and postures.
But there were moments that were uncomfortable or disappointing, especially during the more vulnerable and emotional scenes. During one scene where Haley (Rickard’s character) reflects on a potential love interest she dismissed five years ago, the emotions she puts forth don’t ring true. Her wistful longing seems trite and false. Later, when Haley is speaking on the phone with her daughter Vera, a normal conversation suddenly escalates into shouting. It felt forced and unnatural.
Overall, these moments can be forgiven. The exposition is doled out carefully and cleverly, and the way Haley interacts with her daughter is handled creatively. Rickard walks over to a curtain that the audience easily believes is a hallway and, shouting, asks her daughter how a pair of shoes looks with an outfit. Then, the surge of teen angst wafts out in the form of a Miley Cyrus or Ke$sha song as a pretend (and silent) Vera opens her door to tell her mother what she thinks. The good moments outweigh the bad in “Bad Dates,” and even with a closing line like “We are all put on Earth to help each other,” the play, part of Piccolo Spoleto’s Stelle di Domani series, is worth the trip to the College of Charleston’s Chapel Theatre.
Dianna Bell is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.