By Prithvi G. Tikhe
BU News Service
The one-woman show of “Bad Dates” needs someone to own the stage, and Haneefah Wood knows how to make a character come to life.
As she portrays the main (and only) character, Haley Walker, she engages with the audience, which initially seems a skeptical task. Sitting through an entire play written as a monologue sounds arduous. However, Wood makes Haley’s character jump off the stage and give the audience a relatable, three-dimensional person with an upbeat attitude.
Wood plays a trendy restaurant manager in New York who is satisfied by the small pleasures in life, such as putting together a wine list. While balancing the serious and the funny scenes, she allows the audience to react to her expressions. Then she captures them again with her forceful delivery and attitude.
While Haley tries to find herself a steady life partner — as well as a father figure for her daughter, Vera — Wood breaks the fourth wall and lets the audience access her character by asking their opinions on the situations in her personal life.
Wood just doesn’t create her character; instead, she paints it onto a canvas. She gives us reason to worry when she gets into trouble with mobsters, encounters cash problems and deals with employee issues, all while never letting us lose focus of her personal life.
Her portrayal of Haley’s fictitious personal struggles is relatable. By giving names to her bad dates —referring to an infamous “Bug Guy” — Wood uses these moments to hit the audience with hilarious one-liners to express her confusion.
Haley’s unpredictable dating life is perfectly encapsulated in a few instances: her confusion to find the right pair of shoes; her invisible mother setting her up with the wrong men, including one who obsesses over his cholesterol; and her attempt to start over with an old flame.
However, there are plausible difficulties for this multifaceted character. The actress must have the ability to understand Haley’s personal problems and the way she masks them with comedy in her constant state of wardrobe flux.
This flux bounces around with the dialogue delivery and Haley’s constant search for the perfect outfit. Wood does not miss a beat as she switches between her thoughts regarding her shoe-dress combinations and her need to find a life partner.
The middle of the play seems to drag when she tries to decide whether dating is worth her time. But throughout the slower sequences, we understand the play needs to develop by itself, given that we are only watching Haley’s life unfold onstage. Wood controls the tempo of the play. So when Haley leaves the stage for her eventual date with the Bug Guy, we learn the inherent lesson of the performance: every person needs a partner.
Haley’s life is an open book and we are able to read it deeper as the play progresses. With each failed date, we understand what Haley seeks in a partner and tend to agree with her as we analyze her relationships.
The audience can be misled to believe the play focuses on a woman who only worries about what men think of her, but “Bad Dates” shows a woman coming to terms with herself and having the strength to take care of her daughter, a mob and her nagging mother. The social message of a single mother’s life is brilliantly relayed to the audience through the guise of a captivating, comical narrator who happens to like to try on fashionable clothes.
For tickets, visit the Huntington Theatre Company’s website.