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THEATRE REVIEW: Bad Dates

Sex and the Mobsters: Bad Dates bills itself one way, delivers something else

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Bad Dates
Presented by Charleston Stage
Feb. 6-8, 13, 15, 8 p.m.
Feb. 9, 14, 16, 6 and 9 p.m.
$19.50-$26.50
American Theater, 446 King St.
(843) 577-7183
www.charlestonstage.com

I frown when my girlfriend asks me to watch Sex and the City. The feminine themes grumble in my belly like a beer burp. It's only for chivalry's sake that I snuggle up and acquiesce. Ten minutes in, though, something remarkable happens. I have to stifle my laughter. The Sopranos attracts my girlfriend with its labyrinthine plot and developed characters. When we watch, she often becomes aggressive, even crude: "Is he gonna kill that son of a bitch, or what?" In the end, we crave well-written and expertly performed entertainment.

Bad Dates, the new one-woman comedy by Charleston Stage, bills itself as "Sex and the City meets The Sopranos." Charleston local Beth Curley stars in the monologue as Haley Walker. A single woman challenged by love, money, and motherhood, Haley has a penchant for designer shoes and is the manager of a fashionable New York City restaurant. She longs for a good man but endures numerous disappointments. She loves her daughter but is bewildered by her existence. She revels in her restaurant's success but jeopardizes her position at its helm. She is a conflicted character whose search for security and independence compromises her integrity.

Haley's New York City apartment is crowded with shoes. The shoes occupy closet space and are sprawled across the floor; they are under her bed and line the walls. They also represent Haley's lifeline: her humble Texas beginnings; her new job in the city; a good date, a bad date; and her daughter's own growth into womanhood.

Haley's apartment is a sanctuary. She tumbles through outfits, recites her latest dating obituary, and ruminates on life, love, and family. Sometimes she drops omniscient one-liners about her trouble with the Romanian mob, how she inherited her restaurant after the original owner was clipped by the feds. Later she pulls a duffel bag from beneath her bed and wads of money spill across the floor. Haley scoops them up, tries to change the subject back to dating, but her haste leaves some of the bills scattered. Their crumpled remains are signs of trouble to come.

Trouble is plain to see in Bad Dates. Haley's shoes are symbols for her life. Many no longer fit. Pairs once fashionable are fateful reminders of choices gone wrong. But rather than step into her old shoes and take strides toward a better life, Haley succumbs to a mania that seizes her independence and willpower. The mob's threat also increases Haley's discomfort. The day the restaurant's former owner is released from prison, Haley is exposed as a thief, and her deepest fears come true. The mob zeroes in and her priorities change. Haley's inclinations shift from shoes and dates to her freedom and survival.

Although the mob's threat and her shoes' uselessness are two certified motifs, their persuasiveness doesn't crystallize, and their attempts to color the plot run pale. Playwright Theresa Rebeck's material has darkly humorous aspirations, but the script is limited to tired quips about incompatible men and women. It has clichéd references to shoe addicts. It whines for a world in which women have better dating prospects.

Beth Curley's debut solo performance is determined and sincere. She portrays her character as a sordid flake of energetic anxiety. The result is an uncertain encounter with a vulnerable character. The performance leaves you sympathetic, but without much desire to hang around. You have to respect Curley's optimism, though. She carries a frenetic monologue with humor and charm. She deserves credit for trying to make a one-woman play live up to its billing as a melding of The Sopranos and Sex and the City. It's not her fault that Bad Dates simply isn't.

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