'Bad Dates' at Act II Playhouse: A little behind the times, but the shoes are dazzling

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Karen Peakes stars as Haley in “Bad Dates,” through Dec. 31 at Act II Playhouse in Ambler.

There’s an antique, even musty, air to Theresa Rebeck’s 2003 one-woman show, Bad Dates, at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse through Dec. 31.

This is a piece whose appeal depends largely on the sharpness of its commentary on contemporary dating mores. But those mores and rituals – and the language we use to discuss them – are changing with blinding speed these days.

When Haley Walker (Karen Peakes), a divorced Manhattan restaurant manager who’s venturing back into the dating fray, talks about trying “to dress sexy without looking like a slut,” one winces. The dissonance is even greater when she confesses to allowing an invasive, unwanted good-night kiss from a man who spent the evening boorishly discussing his colon and his cholesterol – simply because he picked up the check.

Even the ways in which this thirtysomething single mother finds potential matches – at her restaurant’s bar, via a fix-up by her mother, through sheer serendipity – seem antiquated in our current era of ubiquitous online dating.

These minor anachronisms, not to mention the condescending references to now-chic Brooklyn and the obviousness of the romantic snares into which Haley falls, would matter less if there were more substance and style to Bad Dates.

There could have been. Rebeck is both a well-produced playwright (Seminar, Mauritius) and a television writer and producer. She created the short-lived, soap-operatic, but entertaining NBC musical series Smash, and she was a writer/producer for two excellent police procedurals, Law and Order: Criminal Intent and NYPD.

Those last two credits may explain why Rebeck lards what is mostly a comedy of (bad) manners with elements of a crime drama, involving Haley’s mobbed-up restaurant and her own fumbling attempts to keep on the right side of the law and her bosses. The genre mash-up leads to some surprising – and unconvincing – plot twists.

Act II director Elaina Di Monaco and Peakes do what they can with this 90-minute, intermissionless show. Bad Dates probably works best as a character study of a self-confessed “ding-a-ling” and “restaurant idiot savant” with an Imelda Marcos/Carrie Bradshaw-size shoe fetish.

The capable and appealing Peakes is on stage the entire time, mostly in direct address to the audience, while she recounts her dates, changes (with skillful modesty) into outfits both restrained and flashy, and tries on a dazzling variety of high-end, high-heeled shoes. While Haley compulsively seeks the appropriate garb – or armor – for her romantic encounters, she stops to tell her young daughter (an offstage presence), that it is, of course, inner beauty that counts.

No one really believes that, do they? Certainly not, to their credit, the show’s excellent design team. Dirk Durossette’s set is a detailed and relatively lavish apartment bedroom, Jillian Keys’ costumes are highlighted by a sleekly patterned gold lamé dress, and prop designer Sara Outing has filled the stage with racks and boxes of eye-catching, fashion-forward, and singularly uncomfortable-looking shoes.

Theater

Bad Dates

    • Through Dec. 31 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler. Tickets: $27-$35. Information: 215-654-0200, act2.org.