Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 25, 2009

Bad Dates

Shakespeare & Co,, Lenox
through March, 8, 2009
Shera Cohen

Why would anyone, even the most ardent theatergoers, venture to the Berkshires in the middle of winter to see a one-woman play that few have heard of, written by a little-known playwright?

There are several correct answers to this profound question. Shakespeare & Company continues to maintain its reputation of producing the best theatre. Author Theresa Rebeck is a skilled wordsmith whose name will soon be recognized in larger circles. Most important, Elizabeth Aspenlieder stars. A 14-year Shakes & Co. veteran, this woman’s exemplary acting has been applauded by audiences and critics for her dramatic roles (“Ethan Frome”) and comedic (“Rough Crossing”).

In “Bad Dates,” she portrays a 30-something divorcee, mother, successful businesswoman, who decides it’s now time to find a man. The script easily could have been as a series of humorous vignettes with some male-bashing. Far from it. Aspenlieder, director Adrianne Krstansky, and the playwright have created a delightful, energetic, scattered, competent woman with a full life which the audience wants to learn about. Although a one-woman show, we “see” the many other characters: her daughter, phone friends, employees, and her dates. Although inanimate, her clothes and 600 pairs of shoes, take on a role of their own.

Hallie Walker (Aspenlieder) speaks directly to the audience. The set is a messy bedroom, which she uses as a tennis court from the clothes closet to the shoe boxes and back again. This bouncing around is part of her charm. Her dialogue is snappy, profound, and rings true. While doubtful about her future, Walker is a hero as she takes on challenges – usually involving men. The play’s title might imply a string of one-nighters. Again, far from it. It is safe to take teens to this production.

From her eyebrows to her toes, Aspenlieder, with advice from her director, puts every body part into her role. She speaks so naturally that it is easy forget that this is an actress in a part. While one might assume that the play is merely a one-way conversation, there is actually an unexpected and somewhat unrelated plot going on. That’s another reason to head to this summer Shakes & Co. venue in February.