Also see Richard's review of A Delicate Balance
The "Off-Ramp" series at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis serves a couple of interesting functions. One is, apparently, to establish and hold a beachhead in the Grand Center arts community, which may finally be turning the corner from hope to stability, and not incidentally to support the financial health of the Grandel Square Theater by keeping it lit for several extra weeks in the year. Another is to create a venue for plays that are neither mainstream nor particularly experimental, plays with sufficiently broad appeal to justify a larger space than the Studio Theater, but for one reason or another not suited to the Rep's main stage or its more conservative subscribers.
Theresa Rebeck's one-act Bad Dates is an interesting choice for the series. In the context of the previous show, the irreverently satirical Altar Boyz, and the next and final one, an apparently wild, hip-hop take on Shakespeare called The Bomb-itty of Errors, this one-woman comedy about shoes, relationships and the darker side of the restaurant business seems very low-key and even modest. Ms. Rebeck has a good and growing reputation, cemented by the brilliant Omnium Gatherum which is as good a play about ideas as the American theater has produced lately. It is a bit of a surprise to encounter her in a lighter-hearted mood, crafting what looks at first to be a stage version of the currently popular movies designed to appeal to thirty-something women.
Her heroine, Haley Walker, a restaurateur and refugee from a failed marriage in Texas, welcomes the audience to the bedroom of her Manhattan apartment for a series of visits spaced over a period of weeks during which she enters, awkwardly at first and then with greater assurance, the dating scene. In her monologs, she shows us her clothes and shoes, tells us of her dreams and ambitions, fills us in on her background, and gives us blow-by-blow accounts of her experiences with men. Things, as one would expect, do not always go well, but with a couple of deft twists of the otherwise straightforward plot, Ms. Rebeck livens up what might have been a predictable story and brings the play to a remarkably satisfactory conclusion.
Actress Annie Fitzpatrick opens her reading of Haley with a great deal of nervous energy, being quite broad with her movement and letting her words tumble over each other. It is almost as if she is a bit intimidated at having the audience in her bedroom, despite the intimacy of her self-revelations. As the play continues, she calms things down gradually, and by the darker-hued climax, it is clear that she and director Michael Evan Haney have given great thought to her dialog as well as her movement. The result is a splendid rendering of a sympathetic and far from simple character.
Technically, this show is deftly done: Narelle Sissons' set is straightforward, but the closet full of designer clothes and the piles of shoes everywhere give it character. Haley Walker's taste in clothing is an important clue to her character, and Elizabeth Eisloeffel's thoughtful, charming costumes make a big contribution to Miss Fitzpatrick's success in bringing Haley to life.
Bad Dates will run through November 4 at the Grandel Square Theater in Grand Center, as part of the "Off Ramp" series at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis. For ticket information, call 314-968-4925 or visit the Rep online at www.repstl.org.