By Adam Cohen . . .
George Street Playhouse kicks off the new theater season with a filmed version of Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates. Haley Walker (Andrea Burns) is a single divorced woman raising her teenage daughter. She’s got a potentially unhealthy obsession with shoes. And she’s the manager of a very upscale, very popular restaurant who just can’t seem to find her way into a relationship and the dating world.
Burns gives a felicitous performance. Her open expressive face and deft acting skills, coupled with some fun camera work make this a handsome, engaging theatrical evening.
Walker, as portrayed by Burns, is clearly a survivor. She swore off romance after fleeing a bad marriage in Texas with unseen daughter Vera in tow and finding uncomfortable parallels to her own situation in “Mildred Pierce.” Like that movie’s rather more redoubtable heroine, Haley runs a restaurant; hers is owned by some shady Romanians who will come to figure prominently, if incredibly, in Haley’s non-romantic mishaps. This intelligent performance allows us to see the survivor instincts while also hinting at the darker tones and choices necessary to make it as a single mother managing a restaurant in New York City.
Burns and director Peter Flynn and cinematographer Hudson Flynn enliven some of the scripted mundanity by Rebeck. They never allow Haley’s plight to feel commonplace, so much as an intimate private conversation with friends. Hudson finds cool camera angles (a view from a hanger between the many outfits Burns tries on) to foster more intimacy. As Haley navigates the dates, Burns is utterly natural with a nuanced performance making Hailey likeable. She frantically searches for date outfits and shoes, sharing details of one terrible encounter while preparing for the next. At a Buddhist book benefit, she meets the “bug guy.” A loser soliloquizes about his cholesterol, his colon, and his ex-girlfriend. Her mother arranges a wretched blind date. She’s even stood up, the ultimate indignity. Anyone who’s ever dated can easily empathize.
Director Flynn and Burns keep the action fairly brisk. There is the occasional sameness and one-up-manship of bad dates. When Hailey shares her longing for a “good guy” and recalls high school’s first-love euphoria, we can’t help but feel for this honestly wrought portrayal. “My powers of delusion are really noteworthy,” she confesses, but her unstoppable brio shines. We’re her invisible sympathizers and Burns and the Flynns provide amply dexterous direction and camera work.
The production streams through March 14th. Tickets and more information at https://georgestreetplayhouse.org