Lights come up on scene three of the play. Haley Walker (Lisa Dawn) is standing in the middle of the stage in her date outfit we saw from the scene prior – a black sequin dress with black heels. She was ready for a night on the town, and we are prepared to hear her account of the third date of the evening. However, rather than jumping into the juicy details, Haley begins a little differently than the past two scenes:
“Alright, I would like to take this opportunity to admit that perhaps I have been to some degree indulging in some male bashing. I apologize to any males present.”
Then she of course goes on to describe how the date could not have gone more poorly, and partakes in further male bashing. However, for the briefest of moments, Haley tries to create some community, inviting us to buy into her journey. As in any one woman show, we inevitably become the second character in any scene. In Oil Lamp’s production, the challenge is compounded: not only does Haley have to appeal to the audience, but she also must do so across several screens as audiences watch the performance virtually.
Oil Lamp Theater presents Bad Dates
Directed by Elizabeth Mazur Levin and written by Theresa Rebeck, Bad Dates follows Haley Walker—a divorced, single mother and restaurant manager who has recently rejoined the dating market in New York City. The entire play takes place inside of Haley’s bedroom as she prepares for each date – inviting the audience in on her clothing choices, and how she feels about that evening’s man. As she prepares for the next date, we hear the gossip from the evening prior, and how each of those dates either goes horribly wrong or shockingly well.
Oil Lamp did not choose an easy task. Like many one-person shows, much of Rebeck’s piece relies on the actor pulling energy from the audience. This script is filled with dark humor, encouraging the actor to invite us to laugh alongside her woes. Streaming notwithstanding, the play carries the feel of Haley inviting us in on her secrets – and you too may find that elements of that intimacy carry over in this platform.
In Dawn’s ability to create a connection with her virtual audience, she brings a much-needed sense of humor to the ridiculous and tough world of dating. With a range of blind dates to coincidental meet ups, Rebeck creates various access points to which you as an audience member might just find relatable.
At the very least, the deep desire to escape an uncomfortable situation might feel familiar. And Dawn’s mastery of physical gestures to convey the scenes helps put them over the top. When we join Haley on her third date with a blind set up from her mother, her face tells the story as much as her words do. In describing the evening’s unfortunate chain of events, Haley re-enacts the subtle eyebrow gestures and faces she tried to make towards the hostess to PLEASE! bring the check. Her over-the-top and panicked facials that are meant to silently beg the hostess to help her escape this awful date. We’ve been there! Mostly though, it’s Dawn’s relatability that helped this writer feel for her pain, and you might agree that it is her strong performance that is able to create connection across the virtual platform.
Potential in a Pandemic
Theatres across Chicago have developed a range of methods to try and produce virtual material in the midst of this time. Oil Lamp Theater’s choice to produce an entire play on their stage for no physical audience – complete with Set and Lighting Design was different. It’s a compelling example of new opportunities for other theater companies during this unusual time.
Full of dark humor and fun, Bad Dates makes for an enjoyable evening from the comfort of one’s home. However, in addition, this writer certainly applauds the company’s risk taking in how they chose to share the virtual offering.
Lisa Dawn.... Haley Walker
Elizabeth Mazur Levin... Director
Sam Anderson... Lighting Design
Greg Korak... Set Construction
Kaitlyn Salemi... Stage Manager
Ellen Markus... Production Assistant
Offered virtually through August 23, 2020
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:00pm
Sundays at 3:00pm
Online via video link.
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.