Theresa Rebeck’s new play certainly delivers on its forbidding title. A solo show in which a chipper woman recounts in wearisome detail her romantic misadventures and other assorted misfortunes, it’s about as entrancing as it sounds. The play isn’t just a catalog of bad dates — it provides an occasion for them, too. Don’t bring your new romance.
Julie White stars as the beleaguered heroine Haley, a nice gal with bad luck. Call it typecasting, since White herself appears to be a nice gal with bad luck. She just concluded a run in the equally lamentable “Barbra’s Wedding.” Perhaps she should now write her own show, illuminating how and why bad plays happen to talented performers. She might again collaborate with John Benjamin Hickey, the fine actor who has chosen this unstageworthy piece of writing for his directing debut. Better luck next time.
The play’s divorcee narrator, Haley, opens with a disquisition on her expansive shoe collection, a subject picked clean of humorous potential by the vastly wittier Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City.” The matter arises since Haley is addressing us from her pastel-colored bedroom (impeccably realized by Derek McLane), trying on outfits to prepare for her first date in several years.
She swore off romance after fleeing a bad marriage in Texas with daughter Vera in tow, and finding uncomfortable parallels to her own situation in “Mildred Pierce.” Like that movie’s rather more redoubtable heroine, Haley runs a restaurant; hers is owned by some shady Romanians who will come to figure prominently, if incredibly, in Haley’s non-romantic mishaps.
But these take a back seat to her ill-starred evenings on the town in search of love. Hers is, of course, a situation that will strike a sympathetic chord in most hearts. Unfortunately, as written with gnawing mundanity by Rebeck, Haley’s plight isn’t universal so much as commonplace. Her dithery voice is pleasant without being distinctive (“So I’m like, okay, this is just a date that’s not going to work out”), and her experiences are both cartoonish and generic. The first guy she goes out with talks incessantly about his cholesterol level. The next one’s gay. Behind door number three is the perfect guy who turns out to be secretly seeing someone else. Yawn.
Notwithstanding the complications that land her in the police station by the play’s conclusion, Haley is not a particularly interesting character, and there’s little White and her director can do to disguise this unhappy fact. The actress has some lovely, off-kilter yelps of dismay, as when Haley emits a strangled moan of horror at a message she’s just left on the answering machine of the guy who’s stood her up. Haley’s startled stutter of a laugh at the idea that she’s finally going to have sex is priceless, too. And a three-word eulogy for a pair of shoes now tainted by a failed date — “They were cute” — is delivered with an exquisite sense of defeat.
But White and her director push too hard for pathos in the play’s late going, when Haley is callously stood up by the man she’s pinned her hopes on. The teary breakdown may well be authentic, but by this point our reserves of pity for Haley have pretty much run dry. We have to save some for ourselves, after all.