Love is adding up on stages around town– here are my calculations:

BAD DATES: The Huntington Theatre Company has revived one of its most popular shows ever, which had its premiere there 15 years ago: Theresa Rebeck’s one-woman show about a woman cataloguing her harrowing and hilarious romantic excursions! BAD DATES was a great date for me– like spending the evening with your best girlfriend over a bottle of wine, cracking up and commiserating over love’s mishaps.

Haneefah Wood as Haley Walker a 30-something divorced mother of a 13 year old girl tears around her bedroom changing outfits and rummaging through her Imelda Marcos-sized shoe collection preparing for a succession of dates. We’re there for the build up as she gets ready, and the let down after she returns to regale us with tales of her wacky assortment of substandard assignations.  Ms. Wood established instant intimacy and rapport with the audience, offhandedly jumping into and out of her clothes, onto and off of her bed as she prepared for one potentially amorous exploit after another.

Her performance is as colorful and varied as her wardrobe; Ms Wood paced herself perfectly, barefooted or stilettoed, in full possession of every emotional beat: she was tough, smart, and vulnerable, sarcastic and funny, and– despite the eventual odd plot twist– thoroughly grounded in a reality I could believe.  I was dazzled by her charisma, beauty, and ability to remain open to life’s surprises. Though political correctness stifled the laughs in one notable section which I won’t divulge (you’ll feel the audience squirming when it comes up) most of the material holds up. Make a date for a fleet and funny evening, no heavy lifting, and laughs to spare as you see yourself in this urbanite’s sojourn through the challenging adventures of a single woman looking for love–wherever it leads. BAD DATES through February 25!

PROOF: It all adds up and the proof’s in the production now onstage in The Nora Theatre Company’s presentation of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about family, intelligence, and faith which ponders the relationship between a brilliant mathematician suffering from mental illness, and a daughter who stays home to care for him. Cast, crew, and design are first rate as the play explores this family tree and what is rooted there. How much of the father’s mathematical genius and how much of his illness was passed on? Is the answer to be found in the hundreds of pages of equations scrawled in dad’s notebooks? Or embedded in the daughter’s genetic makeup, or in the familial tensions revealed when an older sister arrives to sort things out?

I’ve seen the play several times, but never before with the family cast as Asian. Beyond some resonance about Asians and an affinity for numbers, it barely registered; that’s a good thing. The play’s universal impact was driven home by relaxed and deeply inhabited performances, led by Lisa Nguyen as Catherine, a young woman at the beginning of her life whose studies have been derailed by the need to care for her father Robert, ably played by Michael Tow. Catherine’s shifting persona is intriguing–her inexperience and insecurity are masked by a surface self-possession, which may be anchored in her own intellectual independence and mathematical gifts.

Nguyen’s performance grows increasingly layered as she interacts with Hal (the excellent Avery Bargar), a grad student who is searching her father’s notebooks for clues to a landmark “proof” that may reside there. When ultra-competent, very “put together” older sister Claire arrives played by the resplendent Cheryl Daro, she makes sense on paper, but is clearly not working with the same set of variables as her little sister.

PROOF is ultimately a play about a number of interlocking puzzles, familial and mathematical, the solutions to which may be hiding in plain sight, depending on the nature of the proof one is seeking. Despite a somewhat formulaic turn of events (one good conversation might have cleared  things up and made Act II moot) it nevertheless held me from beginning to end. At Central Square Theater through February 18!


George Olesky & Jennifer Ellis/ Photo by Nile Hawver/ Nile Scott Shots

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE: I loved the Academy Award-winning film on which this material is based and for which Gwyneth won an Oscar as a woman in love with Shakespeare’s plays who disguises herself as the male lead in Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter (now that’s what I call a rough draft) and ends up falling in love with the Bard himself! A buoyant, witty, period romance involving mistaken identities, amorous entanglements, backstage hijinks, and young Will caught up in love while writing on deadline for the queen– should find a natural home onstage at SpeakEasy Stage Company. For some reason, I found this production with– by any measure– an excellent cast directed by Scott Edmiston lacking the whimsy and romance of the film, and the ecstatic delirium of its protagonists.

The original screenplay co-written by Tom Stoppard who’d messed with the Bard before to clever effect (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leapt to center stage in his deft hands) has been adapted for the stage by Lee Hall and stars the lovely Jennifer Ellis as Viola and Newton native George Olesky as the rambunctious young playwright. There is uproarious dialogue taking aim at Shakespeare’s most quotable quotes, hilarious staging including “A Chorus Line” of auditioning young Romeos holding their headshots, comic byplay, a lovely set, copious sword play, original music (David Reiffel), and the priceless deadpan of Nancy E. Carroll applied to the role of Queen Elizabeth– who just loves a pooch in every production. (Click here to see  the adorable pup named “Leko” who stole every scene he was in.) Loved the dog. The music not so much. In fact, the day I saw the show, the cast was out of tune whenever they attempted to sing ensemble.

From where I was sitting (and I was apparently sitting somewhere other than where most people who saw the show and liked it were sitting) the production needs editing, some romantic heat, and a lighter, breezier touch. I was missing something alchemical that would have given the show more bounce and sparkle. You decide –see SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at SpeakEasy Stage through February 10!