Prepare to be charmed.
Haley Walker is a tall drink of sparkling water, a Southern belle transplanted to New York City, a “restaurant idiot savant,” in her words, who stumbled into a great job of running a restaurant because, well, the Romanian gangsters who owned the place just weren't doing a good job. She's got a few years on her, and she has had an unfortunate experience as a wife, and a mostly pleasant experience with raising a small daughter on her own. Along with her adventuresome spirit and a genuinely open and friendly demeanor, as well as a considerate stash of sass and smarts in her arsenal, the attractive and energetic woman is easily engaging and a soft-seeming but serious force to be reckoned with.
Oh, and she has this thing about shoes.
And we just love her to death.
Shanna Brock is Haley Walker in Live Theatre Workshop's production of “Bad Dates,” a 2003 play by Theresa Rebeck. It's a one woman show that really needs no one else to clutter the stage. It's light-hearted and mostly light weight, but as Haley tells her story, there is plenty we recognize as being all too familiar in our own adventures negotiating the oceans of life and love with their shifting tides and surprising undertows. Haley's story lands gently for the most part, but there's a thing or two in her experiences that echoes with our own, and makes us, well, kin, kinda. In the first scene when we meet Haley, it's the shoes that Rebeck has chosen to allow Haley to begin her march into our awareness. We're a little wary at first; someone who has a collection of hundreds of pairs of shoes, many of them quite expensive, and which she treats with a dreamy pride of ownership, invites us to wonder rather cautiously about the nature of this woman. Throughout her show-and-tell, she relates her personal history in a roundabout but thorough way, all the while establishing a very real relationship with the audience. It's not too subtle, but it is a soft flirtation which spreads over the audience with a light touch. It's the touch with which you'd spread the blanket on the ground in preparation for a picnic, not with the anguished vigor you'd would shake that same blanket after a mean measure of ants has decided to share your picnic. And before you know it, we are helplessly wrapped in Haley's charm.
Interestingly, several pairs of Haley's shoes do not seem to fit right anymore. Could this suggest a need to change direction in her life? A change which might indicate that she has outgrown the here and now of her life and needs to find some footwear which can help her blaze a new trail?
We do know she wants to start dating again, and in fact is trying to put together an outfit for the evening. Over the next few scenes, Hayley changes clothes—within our sight but with nothing but utter practicality—as she recounts her dating adventures, and misadventures. She tells of the dreary dinner with a man who seemed most inclined to talk about his health, and his colon in particular. She relates her acceptance of an invitation from a friend to a fundraising event, the Buddhist Bug Book Benefit, in which she is seated at a table with some folks who seem intent on nurturing a practice of loving inclusion and peace with the insect world. There are a couple more dates Hayley shares with us, including one which is actually developing into a relationship which seems quite promising, and we root for her as well as hurt for her as this boyfriend serves up some serious disappointment. And then there's the unexpected homecoming of the mobster owner of the restaurant, which leads Hayley to an eventful visit to the police station.
Brock skillfully and with convincing commitment gives us a delightful character. It's almost impossible not to be seduced with the spunk, the intelligence, and the effervescent good nature of this down-home/uptown woman. Brock even gives us a real Southern accent, and believe me, this Tennessee girl can sniff out a fake one in a heartbeat. Director Sabian Trout and Brock have worked well together. There were a couple of missteps opening night, mostly on the technical production side of things, but that didn't really disturb our dance with Hayley.
This is well-done fun delivered by a playwright who did her job well and an actress born to play the part.
Make a date soon. LTW's dance card will fill up rather quickly, is my bet.