Feb. 1, 2009 performance reviewed by Ed McDonnell
Elizabeth Aspenleider displays a prodigious gift for comedy and a genuine likability as she takes us on a breakneck tour of Haley Walker’s world in Bad Dates, a one-woman show at Shakespeare and Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in Lenox, MA, running through March 8th.
Canadian-born Aspenleider, a fourteen-year veteran of the company, is consisently engaging and increasingly powerful as she hilariously raises a teenage daughter, runs a high-end restaurant, revels in her shoe collection, seeks a decent mate, and more – in no order whatsoever. Theresa Rebeck’s script is sharp and streamlined.
One way in which she takes us with her is to acknowledge and involve the audience directly. She looks to them for input on her shoe choices and for identification as she wends her way aloud through adventures with men past and present. She jokes and worries to us from the private warmth of her bedroom (the only set for the two acts is the bedroom). She returns to it exhaused and updates us. She shares her elation (not all the dates are bad) and her wry revulsion (an evening with “the cholesterol guy”).
The shoe lore alone is remarkable. If Aspenlieder’s decision to include us were only a gimmick, it still might be effective. But so deftly does she position and establish us as her comrades, and herself as a lighthearted “plugger”, that when an awful betrayal comes, by then we are right beside for that too; in a moment, the depth of Haley’s character suddenly is plain, and with her we feel the wrenching pain she suffers.
There will be a twist in the story which further enhances the fascinating picture of Haley. Note: at a certain juncture, most everything has been humerous. At the end of the first act there is an apparently fleeting shift in tone, an unsettling moment. This play is extremely fun, but illustrates something serious. Haley faces the fragmented world of her time, as do millions of others. Her individual mind and approach, formulated for the moment’s challenge over years of moments grim or joyful or baffling, are revealed as she seeks goodness or finds grave danger.
They are there in glimpses of the poignantly, completely human Haley: in high-speed agonizing over one outfit after another; in a brave declaration that “I’m in charge;” in a wistful reflection of sitting in a car feeling “potentially safe;” and, perhaps most importantly, when she remembers “needing to believe in HELP… ” This show can help one’s soul, in a couple of ways. Somehow it is suitable for late winter.
Adrianne Krstansky, new to Shakespeare and Co., directs Bad Dates, which will be presented in the new Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre through March 8, 2009 – show times are 2PM and 7PM.
Costumer Jennifer Tremblay and set designer Susan Zeeman Rogers have both done wonderful work.