Man and Manolos

A Texas transplant’s love life fuels comedy in ‘Bad Dates’


IMELDA OF THE WEST SIDE | Haley (Shannon J. McGrann) has a shoe fetish that doesn’t help her with me in the one-woman comedy ‘Bad Dates.’ (Photo courtesy George Wada)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

The sly trick of Bad Dates is that its leading (heck, its only) character — Haley (Shannon J. McGrann), a Texas transplant who unexpectedly “makes it” in the Big Apple, and is only of late re-entering the dating world — is such a likeable, genuinely try-hard kinda gal, you are firmly on her side … before you realize she’s not exactly the perfect mom. As with Pyscho, where Hitchcock got you to sympathize with Norman Bates, playwright Theresa Rebeck has you rooting for Haley, sometimes against your better judgment. It’s the power of the unreliable narrator put starkly to work.

It helps that men and women, gay and straight, will see something familiar in Haley, who spends two hours as the only voice in this one-woman show, talking about relationships, family (especially her gay brother), dating and career. She dates gay guys, who are priggish. She dates bug experts, who are weird. She dates a great guy who… well, there’s always something wrong with a great guy. Trust me.

You can’t over-estimate the skills it takes to do a character monologue that has to be funny and poignant and not drone on. For two hours. This isn’t standup comedy; it’s comedy standing up, lying down, changing clothes and occasional slapstick. That’s a lot of baggage resting on McGrann’s narrow shoulders, but she carries it like a Sherpa. Bad Dates rises and falls on the strength of the actress playing Haley — approaching middle age with a cynic’s experiences but still determined to stay cautiously upbeat, she’s an underdog with an Imelda-sized shoe collection. Does that make her insufferable or needy? Or both?

Screen shot 2011-10-27 at 1.14.55 PMNeither with McGrann, who maintains a twinkle that is crucial to making the role work. (“Twinkle” is an undervalued asset in theater.) She modulates Haley’s self-doubt, over-confidence and general good nature in digestible bits. Whether it’s her or Rebeck who deserves the most credit for steering the tone away from maudlin is difficult to say. But for a comedy that takes a sudden turn into drama, Bad Dates never feels manipulative or melodramatic.

Robin Armstrong directed in a manner similar to how she designed the copious costumes: With generosity. There’s a light touch at work here that allows McGrann the freedom to work the stage, interacting with the audience with the gossipy joy of a coffee klatch. Unlike Haley’s Jimmy Choos — or her date with the gay guy — it’s a good fit.



The Dallas Opera scaled back its season for budgetary reasons, but that wasn’t obvious at the opening of Lucia di Lammermoor, which powerfully conveyed the beauty and depth of Donizetti’s finest piece in a flamboyantly intoxicating performance.

The story — about a bride gone mad when the man she loves is kept from her — boasts one of the great coloratura roles for any soprano, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone besting Elena Mosuc (pictured, in her DO debut), for beauty and control as well as dramatic commitment. It’s not merely her technique during “Il dolce suono,” but her passion that makes this Lucia shine.

There won’t be another full mainstage production until April. This teaser has certainly whetted the appetite for what’s to come.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St.
Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 6 matinee at 2 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

BOOKS: What would Judy do?


Palm Trees on the Hudson by Elliot Tiber.

Square One Publishers (2011), $25, 184 pp.

When Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he wasn’t just talking about the French Revolution. Everyone has that day in their lives they’ll fondly recall as the Best Day Ever, filled with happiness, wishes fulfilled and memories with a smile … as well as a Worst Day Ever, the one best forgotten quickly and for good. But what if they were the same day? They are in this memoir.

Elliot was 8 when he first saw Judy Garland and he wished he could join her in Oz. Movies were important to Elliot growing up in Brooklyn, but equally important to his mother, who took the free dishes the moviehouse handed out and re-sold them at her store. She focused on money, and while that bought her the American Dream, it didn’t endear her to her only son, whom she repeatedly called “worthless.”

Elliot left home via subway to Manhattan and rented a filthy artist studio in the Village. There, he hoped to find love and acceptance as a gay man.

Elliot quickly found work as a window dresser and maneuvered his way into better jobs with richer clients, opening an interior decorating business and branching into party planning. It was at one of those parties — lavish, opulent, over-the-top, and planned for a club-owning, gay-hating mobster — where Elliot had his best / worst situation. See, the mobster was friends with Judy Garland…

This prequel to a prior memoir starts with Tiber’s childhood and meanders forth to a highlight that’s funnier now than it must have been 40-odd years ago. Tiber, who once dabbled in standup comedy, tells a good story and his recollections of Manhattan society and being gay in the 1960s are priceless.

Palm Trees on the Hudson  is a hidden gem, and once you start it, you’ll have a dickens of a time putting it down.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas