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Single mom dives into the ‘Date’ pool

Haley Walker understands the pain of too-tight peep-toe heels as completely as she understands the pain of a broken heart.

Kim Watson Brooks, as the title character in “Bad Dates,” the current production of Collaborative Arts Theatre, is a charismatic, engaging and talented performer whose frustrations earn our sympathy even as her romantic misadventures make us chuckle.

A one-woman show about a Texan transplanted to New York City, “Bad Dates” tells the story of Walker’s marriage to a pothead, motherhood, divorce and a colorful career in the restaurant business. Now she’s venturing back into the dating game, and in a series of monologues separated by blackouts, she shares the preparation for and the post-mortem after each night out.

We understand her uncertainties, especially when it comes to selecting an outfit for a first date. Not all of us share her obsession with stylish footwear or her flair for snappy retorts. But some of us will recognize something of ourselves during the 90-minute show in which she recounts the challenges she faces as a single mom diving back into the dating pool.

The guys she ends up describing as she confides her experiences to the audience seem not to have a clue about how to behave on a date. One regales her with tales of his troubled colon; another can’t even be bothered to properly describe his job, on the assumption that she’s too dumb to understand.

In stories about the various men she meets on her adventures, whom she nicknames “bug guy” and “wretched companion,” Brooks is cynical and hopeful and flirty and intelligent. Whether she’s being mom-practical or teenager-giddy, it’s always grounded in honesty – and frequently and effortlessly hilarious.

As Walker frets in her bedroom, methodically changing from one misguided get-up to another, Brooks, under the snappy direction of Elise Wilkinson, lets us see past the overdressed shopaholic in the mirror to the emotional wreck within.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck acknowledges the thinness of her plot by weaving the stories of Walker’s ill-fated forays in dating into an entirely different story. And so our heroine sets out to negotiate a tale of Romanian gangsters, tax evasion and a Buddhist lawyer. What could be a one-sided rant on the battle of the sexes becomes a meditation on the need for genuine community.

The contrivances are made warm and entertaining by Brooks’ ebullience. She’s a perfect fit for the talkative and warm-hearted character. She draws the audience into her confidence, chatters away about shoes and men and food. By the time events turn sinister, she’s won our sympathy.

In its close attention to what people say and do and eat as they circle round each other in that strange, stressful ritual known as dating, this Collaborative Arts production manages to provide that rarest of good dates – an entertaining night at the theater.

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