'Dates and Nuts': Theater Review

Jason Adams
Early effort by red-hot TV producer Gary Lennon demonstrates deft characterization and keen ear for dialogue. 

Playwright Gary Lennon, who has written on "Orange Is the New Black" and "Justified," debuts his play centered on a Brooklyn animal rights activist who searches for love in New York City.

Before writing on Orange Is the New Black and Justified, playwright Gary Lennon was grappling with personal demons back in the '90s when he wrote Blackout, a collection of narratives springing from an AA meeting. When that got turned into the 1995 movie, Drunks, with Faye Dunaway and a young Sam Rockwell, sunnier times seemed to lie ahead for Lennon. That’s when he had what he called a “romantic comedy moment” and wrote Dates and Nuts, which makes its West Coast premiere at Bootleg Theatre through July 13.

Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, Lennon is no stranger to New York vernacular, which is used abundantly by his endearing but loud-mouthed protagonist Eve (Elizabeth Regan) as she and her best friend Marie (Dianna Aguilar) ogle men from the steps of a Brooklyn brownstone. Eve is on a reckless rebound after having been dumped by her guy … again. “I haven’t had sex in so long my hymen is growing back,” she groans, leering at everything that passes.

It’s an amusing opening hook that puts Eve center stage for a monologue that goes on too long. In the role of Eve, Elizabeth Regan brays at the audience in the early going but mostly in a good way, treading gracefully between funny, obnoxious and ultimately sympathetic even when she’s bawling out gay guys for being gay, and also because her last boyfriend left her for another guy … just like the one before him.

Al (Josh Randall) is an easygoing guy with a languid disposition, a masculine yin to Eve’s jangly yang. Stood up by her date, she spurns Al at first but he lingers, sensing a natural fit with Eve.

And so she gets her man, except two weeks later they still haven’t had sex because he wants their relationship to be about more than that. It seems weird and Eve begins to wonder if Al isn’t A) Gay, or B) Married, a bit of mystery cleverly written in by Lennon to give his narrative a little more plot than boy meets girl. When Eve finds a heartfelt note from Al to someone named Mary, she explodes with jealousy but of course it all works out in the end, making Dates and Nuts a shade too sitcom-y.

Dave Scotti has a hilarious turn as an inept lounge lizard who hits on any woman that will listen. A pass at Eve triggers her to pounce like a cheetah on a prairie dog, sending him scurrying.

As funny as Scotti is in the role, even he is upstaged by Darryl Stevens as Patrick, the transvestite who lives next door to Eve. Stevens is given many of the play’s funniest moments, easy set-ups that he has no problem knocking out of the park. The play’s most under-written role falls on Dianna Aguilar, who mainly serves as an exposition board for Eve, nodding along or rolling her eyes to her friend’s lengthy monologues. It’s a thankless role that Aguilar gamely makes the most of.

Best known for directing The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Wilson Milan directed Lennon’s .45 in London, and appears to have a strong sense of the playwright’s rhythms and cadences. He strikes the right tone with each of his performers then blends them into a harmonious ensemble, imbuing them with enough life and laughter to overcome Stephen Gifford’s apparently budget-dictated minimalist set.

Dates and Nuts is no masterpiece but with Regan’s bravado performance, Lennon’s clever one-liners and a mercilessly brief running time, it’s happens to be the perfect date play.

Venue: Bootleg Theatre, Echo Park (runs through July 13)

Cast: Elizabeth Regan, Josh Randall, Dianna Aguilar, Dave Scotti, Darryl Stephens

Director: Wilson Milam

Playwright: Gary Lennon 

Set designer: Steven Gifford

Lighting designer: Sohail e. Najafi

Sound designer: Corwin Evans

Costume designer: Lauren Oppelt

Presented by Alicia Adams, Jessica Hanna