The single life
One-woman shows share some obvious traits, but they also can be strikingly different. This really stands out when you compare the Delta King Theatre’s new show, Bad Dates, with the Sacramento Theatre Company’s The Syringa Tree (closing this weekend). Both shows are 90 minutes long, without intermission, and feature an actress who talks virtually nonstop. But in Syringa, the single actress plays South African characters of two races, spanning three generations over several decades—a broad-angle view.
Bad Dates is more conventional and narrower in focus. It’s a one-character confessional by an upwardly mobile single mom, played by local pro Deborah O’Brien, who we’d like to see onstage more often. She’s having trouble finding a good companion now that she’s over her ex, has her career on a roll, and is belatedly re-entering the dating scene.
This single mom also has a not-so-secret vice: She’s a clotheshorse. She spends half the play squeezing in and out of fashionable outfits (nice costume design by Stephanie Gularte, an actress who knows how to look good). Otherwise, she’s dithering over her very large stash of shoes—so many that she inevitably brings up Imelda Marcos. O’Brien—who’s slender, leggy and reveals impressive pearly teeth when she smiles, which she does frequently—also fiddles with her long, curly hair as she describes dates that turn into disasters for a variety of reasons best left as surprises.
If all of this sounds kinda frothy—well, actually, it is. But O’Brien puts a smidgen of grit and gravity into her portrayal, enough to give the show a sense of direction and keep it on course. It’s a winning portrayal. You sense that this mom cares about the pubescent daughter inhabiting the bedroom yonder (represented by blasts of rock music when Mom yells a question down the hall). There’s also a ring of authenticity in the way O’Brien handles the patter about her job, her hopes for the next date, etc.
Director Michael Stevenson keeps O’Brien roaming around her room, brushing her teeth and combing her hair, while teasing us with the zippers and bathrobes. Scenic designer E.J. Reinagel and prop master Shaun Carroll also give us a bedroom that matches this woman’s character: well-groomed but not impossibly perfect. And with the Delta King’s small stage, a good-looking set that provides plenty of visual diversions over the course of the show is a significant asset.