Eve wants nothing more from a man than “a small commitment that will eventually turn into marriage.” Is that too much for a girl to ask?

Such is the conundrum of the 30something heroine of Dates And Nuts, Gary Lennon’s hilarious romantic comedy now getting its West Coast Premiere at Bootleg Theater nineteen years after it debuted at New York City’s now-defunct Theater Off Park.

Dates and Nuts_1 In pursuit of that teensy-weensy commitment, Eve (Elizabeth Regen) spends her nights scouting out potential life partners at assorted neighborhood watering holes accompanied by her contentedly coupled best friend Mary (Dianna Aguilar).

It’s no easy task for a marriage-minded gal like Eve to accept being single, not with so much male pulchritude right in front of her for the grabbing. Take for instance the guy with the basketball and the “athletic sweat” and the “big bubble butt” … who has the gall to just turn around and walk away from our eager heroine “like he had something better to do.”

Then again, New York can be a tough city for a heterosexual woman on the marriage prowl when so many potential husbands are, as Eve is wont to abbreviate it, “G.” There’s the barfly who “looks like a walking tulip” and the one who “has on more makeup than the entire cast of Kinky Boots” and worst of all, there Eve’s ex Joey, whom she caught sleeping with an Italian Mafioso named “Luigi The Bulge.”

No wonder Eve’s been in recovery at Sex Anonymous, or was until she had to stop attending because everyone was hitting on her and she was “in a very vulnerable place and wound up having sex with half the guys in the group.”

Which leads us up to Eve’s current dilemma, that of being sick and tired of doing wild and crazy things like stalking a telephone repairman to Staten Island because she found his tool belt “very sexual, all that cable hanging from the waist,” or going out with guys like body builder Vinny, who proceeded to finish his workout at Eve’s house using her as “an inanimate object—a barbell, okay?”

Dates and Nuts_2 Then comes the night when Eve, having only just fended off the attentions of icky-creepy Donald (Dave Scotti), meets Al (Josh Randall), and our loser-in-love might just have won the boyfriend lottery … if only she can rid herself of the nagging suspicion that, if not “G,” Al might just be too “P” (perfect) to be true.

Playwright Lennon gained considerable attention (and a Scenie-winning spot on StageSceneLA’s Best World Premiere Plays Of 2012-13) for Echo Theater Company’s A Family Thing.

Dates And Nuts aims for considerably less than A Family Thing’s mix of alcoholism, drug addition, childhood abuse, homophobia, racism, and murder, but with a cast as all-around splendid as the one directed with abundant comedic flair by Wilson Milam for Bootleg Theater, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining ninety minutes of R-rated romantic comedy fun.

Dates and Nuts_3 There’s been considerable script-beefing since Samuel French published Dates And Nuts back in 1997, and the Bootleg production is all the better for the extra twenty minutes or so that’s been added. Eve in particular is more richly fleshed out, thanks in part to the addition of Patrick (Darryl Stephens), her drag queen neighbor who offers the kind of no-nonsense advice our loser in love so badly needs, in addition to providing Dates And Nuts with an out-and-proud gay voice to balance Eve’s understandably soured opinion of the “G” community.

Dates And Nuts’ eleventh-hour crisis still turns on a misunderstanding we’ve seen in sitcom after sitcom, but with a writer as gifted as Lennon at creating snappy patter and a cast as gifted as bringing it to life as the stellar quintet on the Bootleg stage, Dates And Nuts proves well worth the second wind it’s been given.

Leading man Randall’s combination of charm and an effortless Marlboro man masculinity makes him the perfect choice to bring Al to life and to make us, like Eve, keep our fingers crossed that he might just be the answer to a horny romantic’s dreams.

Aguilar makes for a terrific best friend and sidekick to the lovelorn Eve, and Scotti plays obnoxious to such perfection, you may actually end up liking his Donald.

As for Stephens, the Logo TV favorite’s sensational, scene-stealingly sassy performance as Patrick makes it crystal clear why playwright Lennon wrote the role with the A Family Thing star in mind. That Stephens looks as fabulous in a dress as he was heartthrob-handsome in A Family Thing (and on Logo’s Noah’s Arc and DTLA) is icing on the cake.

Dates and Nuts_4 (replacement) Still there would be no Dates And Nuts without the “red hot ball of fire” that is Elizabeth Regen. (The quote is from my review of A Family Thing, for which the actress scored an LA Weekly Theater Award nomination.) The part of Eve is fabulously written, to be sure, but it takes a force of nature like Regen to run with it and create the kind of lead performance that gets an audience cheering and critics searching for superlatives.

Stephen Gifford’s scenic design is one of his most ingenious. (Rarely have curtains and movable furniture added up to so much.) Sohail e. Najafi’s striking lighting design, costume designer Lauren Oppelt’s character-perfect outfits, and Corwin Evans’ pop-hits-filled sound design are all winners as well.

Casting is by Kevin Mockrin, CSA, and Karina Walters, CSA. Emily Abbott is stage manager, assisted by Cristina Carillo-Dono, Heather Gotleib, and Rechard Francios. (The duo moving the set around “in character” deserve special kudos.) Roger Nakasone is technical director. Dates And Nuts is produced by Alicia Adams and Jessica Hanna. Understudies Ralph Cole Jr. and Paul Elia cover, respectively, the roles of Patrick and Al.

L.A. theatergoers in search of a brisk, entertaining hour-and-a-half of sexy romance and laughs can rejoice that Gary Lennon dusted off and beefed up this 1990s gem. If you’re anywhere near as nutty as Eve and her entourage, and a romantic to boot, Dates And Nuts should prove as tasty as a bowlful of nuts and dates.

Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
June 5, 2014
Photos: Bootleg Theater

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