“Dates and Nuts,” a west-coast premiere from playwright Gary Lennon, is your standard formulaic romantic comedy. We open on our lead lamenting to her best friend about her love life. Enter our leading man who becomes a love interest to our leading lady. Conflict arises between the couple. The woman goes to her best friend for advice, the man goes to his best friend – in this case an acquaintance at the bar – for advice. There is a confrontation, all is forgiven and the couple lives happily ever after. Then throw in at least one colorful tertiary character and you have a movie . . . er, play.
This feels like it should have been written for the screen instead of the stage. The first scene, which features the women sitting on a set of stairs (in front of their building maybe?) is interminably long and would have benefitted greatly with cut away shots to the rest of the neighborhood. Director, Wilson Milam, does the best that he can with the blocking, but there are only so many variations of how two people can sit on a set of stairs. Further complicating matters is that Lennon has chosen to turn the standard formula on its ear by making the standard quirky female best friend character into the lead instead of the secondary. Think Molly Shannon from SNL as your leading romantic lady. Instead of just the occasional scene with the super awkward, yet endearing character, we’re stuck with her the entire play. Which goes from awkward and funny to obnoxious rather quickly.
However, Lennon chooses to follow the formula with the leading man, so there isn’t an appropriate counter to our leading woman’s eccentricities. We’re left to reconcile the relationship between the kind-hearted, yet misunderstood Al, played by Josh Randall, who falls in love with Eve, played by Elizabeth Regen, who is painfully insecure, yells at people from the stoop and is so sex crazy she gets kicked out of sex addicts anonymous. Their two energies repel each other like magnets flipped the wrong way. There is a scene in which Randall describes various sexual positions, I’m guessing that this is supposed to be a funny foreplay scene, but with Regen practically dry humping the couch to his recitation, the atmosphere falls well short of comedic, or romantic, and lands somewhere in the realm of absurd.
There is so much time and focus spent on Eve’s larger than life, atypical personality, that there isn’t any time left to get to know Al or see that there is genuine emotion between the two leads. Especially since there are hints dropped throughout that Eve is Al’s woman on the side. The reveal of the truth at the end is too little too late to salvage any sort of vision of how this couple works together. Al and Mary, Eve’s best friend, who are the two more subdued characters with quieter personalities, are lost in the shuffle through no fault of the actors’ performances. They don’t stand a chance among the larger than life characters around them. Donald, Al’s acquaintance at the bar played by Dave Scotti and Patrick/Mary, Eve’s drag queen neighbor played by Darryl Stephens, are both able to hold their own and acquit themselves admirably. Scotti does a great job as the desperate bar fly that just doesn’t get it when women aren’t interested. We’ve all met this guy and wanted to bang our heads against the bar when he won’t leave us alone. Stephens makes a beautiful drag queen and is the only character that can out sass and bring Eve’s more undesirable qualities – like trash talking “the gays” – to heel.
The characters in “Dates and Nuts” are believable, eccentric but believable. They are just miscast too badly to make this romantic comedy palatable.
“Dates and Nuts”
Through July 13
Tickets: www.bootlegtheater.org or 213-389-3856
Kat Michels is a writer, two-time Telly and Regional Emmy award-winning documentarian, poet, Los Angeles theater critic and above all else storyteller. Her children’s book Children Have Got to Be Carefully Taught was released in January of 2014 and is now available on Amazon. www.katmichels.com