Saturday, February 13, 2016

Review: Bad Dates

Bad Dates, by Theresa Rebeck, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield. Produced by Montgomery Theater, directed by Jessica Bedford, featuring Sarah Sanford.

Review: Bad Dates


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

Theresa Rebeck’s 90-minute monologue Bad Dates begins with an introduction to one woman’s array of shoes and clothes: classy, earthy, trashy, cute, dangerous, dowdy. If that’s enough description to turn you away from Montgomery Theater’s textured production and Sarah Sanford’s equally complex performance as single mom/restauranteur Haley Walker, perhaps you could benefit most from Haley’s excursion into the land of deceptive first impressions.

Dating stinks, dating after a certain age is even worse, but dating while trying to raise a child, run a business and evade past mistakes before they catch up, that’s even harder. Rebeck cares enough about Haley to give her confidence, competence, humor and introspection, all while battling insecurity, incompetence, black moods, impulsivity and a noir-ish plot twist. Director Jessica Bedford, in turn, cares enough to keep her that way, resisting the temptation to leaven Rebeck’s message with a ditzy demeanor or frothy design. 

Angela Hoerner’s costumes are pretty low-end for a Manhattan-based shoe fetishist and foodie, and John Hobbie’s set reads similarly generic--two paintings of birds hang over her bed, which, like the room’s walls and bedsheets, are covered in a bland buttery cream pattern. But Sanford stands out in her surroundings, and not just because her various pre-date fashion crises require her to frequently disrobe, robe and disrobe again. 

Though not quite as naked as she was in the Live Arts Festival hit Bang, emotionally, Sanford lets it all hang out, relaxing into the role and riding out its peaks and pits like someone hanging onto control with everything she’s got. Her conversation with the audience, contrived though it may be, has the ring of sincerity, like we’re old, trusted friends who’ve seen her at her best and worst. 

An evening with Rebeck’s material makes for a good enough time, but Sanford is so skilled at vaporizing the barrier between performance and confession, we lean in close to hear more about Haley’s night with that guy who talked about his colon, and wince when later, she gets stood up. We meet her eyes and smile sympathetically, and very quickly, we forget about her bags and boxes full of shoes, or the quality of her clothes, and focus all our attention on the woman wearing them. That, to me, seems like a very successful date.

Playing at: Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton. Through Sun., Feb. 24. Tickets: $20. Information: 215-723-9984 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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