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 www.MontgomeryTheater.org