‘Dating Walter Dante’ is a play with a major identity crisis

Photo credit: Dean Leprairie

Is it a comedy? A love story? A ghost story? A tragedy? A murder mystery? In the first scene of Dating Walter Dante, playwright Jon Steinhagen actually addresses these questions head on, with the cast asking them out loud.

As the focal point of Raven Theatre’s world premiere play, Laura (the likable Kristin Collins, who works overtime to inject a personality into a void of a role) maintains it’s a love story. So that’s mostly what we get.

And it’s kinda lame.

We watch the seemingly level-headed Laura inexplicably fall head over heals for Walter (Jason Huysman, a charismatic actor who here nearly blends into scenery). Problem is, Mr. Dante may *possibly* have murdered his pervious two wives (one’s confirmed dead, the other missing), but the brooding detective man (Antoine Pierre Whitfield) can’t get the pesky evidence to pin it on him.

Clearly, Mr. Dante is a stand-in for Drew Peterson, but an attractive, sensitive Drew Peterson. You sorta believe it when he claims his innocence. But that’s probably just because he’s kinda sexy.

Walter warns Laura that he’s no good for her — he’s got baggage — but she’s not having it. She’s standing by her man, and who cares what the world thinks, etc.! This is a love story, dammit!

And then we have the nosey, comedic couple (Michael Boone and Brigitte Ditmars, who are giving us their best Ethel and Fred Mertz impressions) who are immediately fearful of their friend Laura’s well being. So they get into all sorts of crazy antics as they attempt to spy on the couple. And now it’s a comedy!

But wait: actors are abruptly breaking the fourth wall and narrating to us what’s happening. So, it’s an investigative documentary now? Right?

And then there’s the part where Walter’s dead wife comes to haunt Laura. They exchange some sassy dialogue, and it’s now a wacky ghost story.

Are you keeping up?

At the end of this 90 minute clusterfuck, Steinhagen lands on a trite Unsolved Mystery-esque tone peppered with a bit of Lifetime TV.

As played by Collins, I wanted to like Laura, but didn’t know anything about her, other than when she commits to something, she’s in it 110 percent. Fine, but why? Why??

Steinhagen presents some provocative ideas and writes smart dialogue, but the play pulls us in too many directions to the point that we don’t know what to believe, where to focus and whom to connect with. Maybe that’s the point? Who knows?

All that said, Raven’s production of this play is solid, and director Cody Estle works well with what he’s got.

“Dating Walter Dante” plays through March 24 at Raven Theatre. More info here >

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