BWW Reviews: West Coast Premiere of DATES AND NUTS Recounts a Sweet and Crazy Romantic Encounter
Wilson Milam directs the West Coast premiere of DATES AND NUTS, a romantic comedy by Gary Lennon ("Orange is the New Black" and "Justified"), about Brooklyn animal rights activist Eve who has just been dumped by her fiancé - for a man. Angry at the male species, she becomes increasingly frantic as she searches for love in the dating jungle of New York City. Will she ever find the man of her dreams? Can she learn to keep her mouth shut and not scare all of them away?
"This play is very funny and sweet," says Milam. "Gary is a gorgeous storyteller, and he always comes at everything from a sharp and unexpected angle."
"I was having a romantic comedy moment when I wrote this," laughs Lennon, who is best known for far grittier work. "I love writing female characters. All of us possess masculine and feminine characteristics, and Eve is a manifestation of me."
Starring as the impulsive and hilariously outrageous Eve ("He's straight! That's my type!") is Elizabeth Regen, who attacks the role with every ounce of her being, sharing both her harsh masculine and softer feminine sides. With the height and gorgeous body of a Barbie doll, Regen's Eve knows she can get the attention of any man, but worries that her gaydar is hopelessly malfunctioning. Extremely lonely since her marriage end, Eve admits she tried Sexaholics Anonymous but just wound up sleeping with all the men there. "Does that make me too aggressive?" she wonders. Shouting epithets at any man she deems not good enough for her (which is just about all of them), Eve's beauty is often overshadowed by her filthy mouth. Regen seems to be having the time of her life, expressing what most women think but are too afraid to say about men.
Dianna Aguilar portrays Mary, Eve's best friend and confidante, who we meet at the beginning of the play as she and Eve sit on the stoop watching the boys go by, commenting on their looks, butts ("Hey you, do more squats!") and the way they move. Growing up in Hell's Kitchen, playwright Lennon is no stranger to New York vernacular, which is used abundantly in this opening scene and throughout the play. Mary is the more sedate of the two women, able to quietly note her interest as opposed to Eve who moos like a cow when the sight of a man excites her. The two women play off each other well as any really good friends would do, accepting each other for their shortcomings and forgiving their trespasses.
While sitting alone in a bar waiting for Mary to sing, Eve is approached by two very different men. Dave Scotti portrays Donald, a fast-talking lawyer who Eve promptly tosses aside as one of her "wrongs," telling him she has "No time for a self help class in a bar." Poor Donald admits he has more luck with women at Starbucks than anywhere else.
And after first tossing screenwriter Al (Josh Randall) aside as not being good enough, Eve has a change of heart as he matches her zinger for zinger, finally getting her to smile and laugh. So of course she takes him home. Fortunately for both of them, Al turns out to be the Prince Charming she didn't even know was there, just as interested in animal rights as she is, both believing that animals are much more human than people.
Regen and Randall are a joy to behold, not only for being incredible specimens of humanity but for their ability to bring these two damaged characters so fully present in all their match-ups. You can feel the heat building between them every time they are within five feet of each other - and when they get closer, watch out! When Al tries to convince Eve to slow down their lovemaking, a task so unfamiliar to Eve, she nearly explodes just listening to Al describe his plans for her.
Darryl Stephens rounds out the cast as drag queen Patrick, Eve's neighbor who bangs on their mutual wall whenever the shenanigans in Eve's apartment get a bit too loud, which is quite often. Playwright Lennon made changes for the Bootleg production, including the addition of Patrick, a character written specifically with Stephens in mind.
Stephen Gifford has designed a multiple locations set using moveable curtains as dividers to either hide of bring set locations into focus. As the set pieces are moved between the bar and other locations, Dave Scotti's Donald does his best to grab the attention of a female stage hand in both comical and ridiculous ways, causing her to either ignore him or simple pull the curtains to cover his entire being.
Contemporary costume design by Lauren Oppelt stresses these are ordinary people living ordinary lives, while the women (much like the characters from Jersey Shore) think sex appeal is the man reason for clothing. Often Eve's dresses seem a bit too revealing, but are perfectly suited for a woman who gets what she wants by flaunting her body. This also applies to Stephens' drag queen Mary Tyler Perry.
DATES AND NUTS, written by Gary Lennon and directed by Wilson Milam, runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.* (*please note early curtain time) and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 13. Alicia Adams and Jessica Hanna produce for Bootleg Theater.
Tickets are $20 when purchased in advance online and $25 day-of and at the door. Seniors and students with valid ID are $18. The Bootleg Theater is located at 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90057. For reservations and information, call (213) 389-3856 or visit www.bootlegtheater.org.