- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

Theresa Rebeck’s comedy “Bad Dates” progresses like a first encounter. It starts off promisingly and then goes weirdly awry.

At first, you think you’re in for one of those “Sex and the City”-style, chick-lit types of evenings. Haley Walker (Melissa Flaim) stands in her scanties in her bedroom, surrounded by clothes and what she estimates to be 600 pairs of shoes (take that, Carrie Bradshaw). It is right before the single mom’s first date in a number of years and, understandably, she’s nervous.

While contemplating the pale green silk skirt versus the black leather mini (deemed too hookerish), Haley entertains us with meandering shaggy-dog stories recounting the search for the ultimate cute shoe (sexy, but not bunion-squishers), her ex-husband who sold their car for bags of marijuana, her rewarding career in a hot Manhattan restaurant, and a hilarious yarn about crashing a posh and pretentious benefit for Buddhist writers.

Haley has a fetching Texas twang, and her verbal calisthenics are so accomplished she seems like a mesquite-smoked Scheherazade. Her “practice date” was, naturally, a dud — his idea of preprandial repartee centered on his cholesterol and his colon — but that was “Pride and Prejudice” compared to the evenings that followed. Just to give you an example, Haley’s own mother sets her up on a blind date — with a gay man.

These vignettes greatly amuse — any woman who is a pinot grigio-stained veteran of the dating wars will nod their head in recognition and sympathy — and Miss Flaim’s exuberant body language and comically inventive mugging makes her an engaging raconteur.

“Bad Dates” takes a bewildering twist when, all of a sudden, it is a half-baked episode of “Law and Order” that involves Romanian money launderers, Zen lawyers, cooked books at restaurants and an eleventh-hour crime confession that leads you to believe that Haley is not such a nice person after all. This is especially the case when she airily dismisses her years of embezzlement with the rationale that she only wanted to give her daughter a drum set for Christmas. Ah yes, the percussion-for-adolescents defense.

As directed with empathetic elan by Lee Mikeska Gardner, and featuring a set by Milagros Ponce de Leon that will inspire intense shoe-and-storage envy in most female audience members, “Bad Dates” has its blithe charms. However, like a fun first date who turns out to be a stalker, the play becomes something odd you want to avoid at all costs.

**

WHAT: “Bad Dates,” by Theresa Rebeck

WHERE: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney

WHEN: 7:45 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, 1:45 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays. Through April 20.

TICKETS: $25 to $48

PHONE: 301/924-3400

WEB SITE: www.olneytheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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