By Juan A. Ramirez
There are some exciting preparations going on at the Huntington Avenue Theatre. They have nothing to do with the space’s renaming, nor do they involve rehearsals or readings. No, these preparations are more the type you’d expect when showing up early to a friend’s house party – when they’re in an excitedly chatty mood and might have already dipped into the liquor supply. The only difference here being that what’s happening onstage at the Huntington, while as intimate and invaluable as those little pre-games, take place in the enchanting presence of Haneefah Wood, who is every bit as charming as your best friend and probably a whole lot funnier.
As Haley, the incidental restaurateur, single mother and shining star of Theresa Rebeck’s one-woman play, “Bad Dates,” Wood reminds us of the moments when we remember why we became friends with those closest to us. Trying on outfit after outfit, heel after heel in search for the perfect fit, she explains, in precious detail, the reasons why the last date has led to the next one with an unwavering confidence that verges on hyperkinetic. Her performance is so affectionate, so lucid and so devoid of artifice that we fully expect a morning-after text inviting us to a recap brunch long after the curtain has fallen.
This is not to say Wood is merely going through the motions of playing the hilarious best friend. Holding court from Alexander Dodge’s single bedroom set, she finds the sweet spot between friendly conversation and anecdotal prowess. The play – a string of scenes in which Haley recounts her attempts at re-entering the dating world after a failed marriage left her with a small daughter and no career – would fall apart without a born entertainer at its center. Infusing a sort of stand-up delivery into the play’s slowly evolving narrative, Wood serves up Haley’s hilarious observations to an audience that fits all too easily in the palm of her hand.
As for the material, Wood and director Jessica Stone bring what is essentially an extended “Sex and the City” monologue to its highest peak, despite some clunky plot turns and early-2000s humor that might have fared better at a time when gay panic jokes and Richard Gere references were in vogue. Nevertheless, even the lows which keep this from being a great play can be readily overlooked when given a performance as comedically strong as Wood’s. Try keeping a straight face as she delves into the particulars of a date gone wrong at her own Romanian mob-controlled restaurant, when– well, you’re better off hearing it from the source.
The Huntington Theatre Company’s “Bad Dates” is in performance at the Huntington Avenue Theatre through February 25.