The Column Online



by Theresa Rebeck

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas

Directed by Robin Armstrong
Scenic Design - Rodney Dobbs
Lighting Design - Russell K. Dyer
Costume Design - Robin Armstrong
Sound Design - Rich Frohlich
Properties Design - Jen Gilson Gilliam
Stage Manager - Lindsay Anderson

Reviewed Performance: 10/22/2011

Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Do you ever like to just hang out with a friend, in their living room or bedroom, shooting the breeze talking about everything and nothing? Maybe checking out new purchases, or discussing the latest movies and TV shows - and of course talking about all your other friends? Having a good time just being in each other's company?

That kind of comfortable, easy going atmosphere was exactly how I felt watching Bad Dates, the current production at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Theresa Rebeck's one woman play was richly written to make the audience feel like, and want to be, the character's friend. Throughout the play I had to remind myself that the actress was performing on a stage and not in her room talking to someone. But she really was talking to us, responding to and playing with the reactions and laughter of certain people in the audience that made us think, once again, that we were best buddies.

Bad Dates had an extended run Off-Broadway in 2003, and starred Texas' Julie White. While she seems the perfect actress to play Haley, CTD's choice, Shannon J. McGrann, was equally as perfect in this role of the hard-working yet laid back Austin, Texas single mom now transplanted to New York City, doing what she had to do to raise her daughter and make their new life work. A more natural actress onstage would be difficult to find in our area.

Sitting in Haley's bedroom, we listened to her yak about her new job as a restaurateur, a mob that owned the place, her gay brother, her mom - all the while changing clothes again and again while getting ready for her first date since her divorce and move. And then there were the shoes - lots and lots of shoes - in the closet, under the bed, and in the window seat storage. Haley used all those shoes, and her fake bravado, to mask all her fears and insecurities in her life. But it all seemed better and possible when she let all those things out to her friend, the audience.

It was rather mesmerizing watching McGrann flit all over her room, putting up her hair, standing in front of the unseen door mirror, checking out each outfit, while answering her cell phone, yelling into her daughter's music-laden room, and looking for the perfect shoes that fit and didn't hurt. She so easily multitasked from mom to nervous "first date teen" to sister to employer and back again with uproarious humor and then instant pathos as her series of bad dates caught up with her and life's experiences disappointed.

My thoughts were that Director Robin Armstrong had the good sense to just let McGrann loose on the stage, cleaning up the specifics and little details, and if I'm right, that's directing at its finest. Having someone as talented as Shannon J. McGrann made getting out of the way that much easier.

I did have some confusion in the first several minutes of Bad Dates. One reason was the set design by Rodney Dobbs. Haley's bedroom was rather large for a New York apartment, rent-controlled or not, as she told us. Knowing she was from Austin, and not reading my playbill, I thought the play was set there until the fire escape balcony outside the window became more apparent. Actually, I missed lots of Haley's exposition dialogue due to an overzealous friend of the actress who kept loudly hooting at everything she said, funny or not. It took me awhile to figure out Haley's past life and present condition as I could not hear her! But I digress.

Costumes as designed/coordinated by Robin Armstrong were current period and, other than Haley's t-shirt and pajama pants, they slanted toward the slightly sleazy and gaudy, all in her attempts to look good for that next guy. Russell K. Dyer's lighting was generic with lightening quick cues as she left the room and instantly returned from her bad dates. Rich Frohlich's sound design was simple, appropriate and humorous ? the daughter's blaring bedroom music and city traffic noise when Haley opened the window. I wished the cell phone ring had come from the same direction instead of across the stage.

I put all Haley's shoes into Jen Gilson Gilliam's category as Props Designer as that was really what they were. They decorated the walls along with framed pictures of shoes and other knick knacks, they sometimes flooded the stage area, and were as another character as they came and went in and out of each scene. Gilliam's choices were thought-out and specific with necklaces hung on the wall due to space, and her quietly unused exercise mat and water bottle - the huge balance ball came hilariously into play a few times.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas's Bad Dates was such a refreshing work of theatre with an extraordinary actress at the helm. The play was inviting and warm like your favorite pair of sweat pants and comfy house ?shoes! Instead of leaving, having been entertained but still separate from the performance, I felt as though I'd had a nice evening with my good, if not crazy, friend and couldn't wait for us to together again soon.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 5601 Sears Street, Dallas,TX 75206
Runs through November 13th

Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm

Tickets are $27-$32 with $5 discounts for seniors 60 and up.
$10 rush tickets go on sale to students with ID 15 minutes before curtain. Further discounts are for the military, groups of 10 or more, and KERA and STAGE members.

For tickets and information, call 214-828-0094 or go to