Regional Reviews: St. Louis
But they create a kind of gothic horror for Caroline, played (in a sometimes defensive crouch) by Halley Robertson. Caroline is new to the Tinder-type dating scene of cell phone apps. And all sorts of ghostly, strange men suddenly seem to exist in her life, in her post-divorce, post-miscarriage agoraphobia, in her tiny apartment. The comedy comes from lots of male online bravado, and the tender anguish of Ms. Robertson as Caroline, as she tries to rise above a marriage of abusive co-dependency.
But if you remember the 1977 Diane Keaton movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar, you may be haunted by that yourself, as Caroline is pursued by one garrulous dork after another. The story shifts gears, and nice guys Barry (delightful Mike Wells) and Luke (heartwarming Kelvin Urday) must soon compete with other, far more brazen ones they don't even know they're competing with, but who nevertheless occupy the stage with them. It's a dating game of sortsbut actual, flawed human beings fare poorly, competing with carefully tailored online personas. Now and then Luke intercedes when online lotharios grow nasty, but much of that is hidden from Caroline's real-world contacts.
The old question of kissing on the first date has, of course, been supplanted by the conundrum of finding the right time to send a photograph of one's own genitalia, and (with that in mind) Robert Oberdieck is surprisingly funny as the most forward of Caroline's smartphone suitors. He and David Zimmerman play a total of six online cruisers, sacred and profane, in flashy comedic roles. The heavy dramatic lifting is left to the women, including friends played by Laurell Stevenson and Rachel Garrett. They try to aid in Caroline's healing process, as does Dorothy Labounty, who is blazingly down-to-earth in the role of a talk-therapist. All of these ladies watch in growing dismayand eventual exasperationas Caroline disappears into the sex-version of Tron.
Playwright Penny weaves sex/dating apps into a colorful tapestry of fast times and faux pas. Ms. Stevenson revels in brassy comedy, and Ms. Garrett is tender and gentle, which (perhaps inevitably) means she will brave a climactic crisis at the show's turning point. It's a little surprising that Dates is long enough to need an intermission, but it never feels dreary, and the playwright maintains the story thoughtfully. Jaz Tucker is quietly terrifying as the cyber-presence of Caroline's ex-husband in the show's darker moments.
In spite of the comedy, Dates has a haunted house feeling, even in a one-room apartment, presenting an internet full of shadows, cobwebs, and plenty of rats. The question is, is it all in the palm of your hand, or the other way around?
Dates, through May 26, 2019, at the .ZACK Theatre, 3224 Locust Ave. (a few blocks north of the Chaifetz Arena and St. Louis University), St. Louis MO. For information on this and the other shows in the 2019 Festival of New Plays, visit www.tesseracttheatre.com.