Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog



Elizabeth Aspenlieder - Photo by Meghan Moore
Elizabeth Aspenlieder – Photo by Meghan Moore

Actress Elizabeth Aspenlieder, star of the one-woman hit comedy, Bad Dates, which ran at Merrimack Repertory Theatre from March 19 to April 12, 2009, took home the award for Outstanding Solo Performance at the 27th Annual Elliot Norton Awards last night, May 11, at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.  Originally produced by Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA earlier this year, Bad Dates transferred to Merrimack Rep in March, where it ran for four very successful weeks and played to packed houses.  Bad Dates became Merrimack Rep’s 11th highest grossing production in its 30-year history.  When combined with the Company’s recent IRNE Awards, Ms. Aspenlieder’s Elliot Norton marks the fifth time in the past year that local reviewers have recognized a Merrimack Rep actor for an outstanding performance on the Liberty Hall stage.

The Elliot Norton Awards, now in their 27th year, recognize excellence in Greater Boston Theatre.  The awards, which are presented by the Boston Theater Critics Association, were founded in honor of Elliot Norton, who served as drama critic for Boston newspapers for forty-eight years and as moderator of Elliot Norton Reviews on WGBH-TV from 1958-1982.  At the event, actor Al Pacino accepted a Special Elliot Norton Award honoring the late Paul Benedict.  A complete list of winners can be found here.

Bad Dates was originally sponsored by Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank. Merrimack Repertory Theatre is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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Cast Interview – Elizabeth Aspenlieder

Cast Interview – Elizabeth Aspenlieder

Elizabeth Aspenlieder. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Elizabeth Aspenlieder. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Bad Dates star Elizabeth Aspenlieder, originally from Toronto, Canada, has spent the last 13 years working at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, MA. She has acted in numerous productions over that period of time, including Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, and Richard III. In addition to her acting work at Shakespeare and Company, Elizabeth is also the Director of Public Relations and Playbill Sales. 

Bad Dates ran for two months at Shakespeare and Company, starting in January of this year. During her time off from the show, Elizabeth answered a few questions about Bad Dates and her character, Haley Walker.


How has Bad Dates been going for you out at Shakespeare and Company?


It has been a wonderful experience stepping into Haley’s shoes every night – literally and figuratively! We’ve had great houses and so much fun. I was surprised how quickly I became comfortable with the audiences every night and them with me — so much so they talk back to me…give me advice, you know, sigh and gasp at some of my not so ‘hip’ clothing choices, like “wear the blue dress darling – that skirt is awful…don’t go out with him…” stuff like that. It sure keeps me on my toes because I am after all doing a play 🙂 . But it’s been great fun to interact with them and form a bond, a level of camaraderie and trust. They are after all coming into my bedroom every show, so it’s a pretty intimate setting and thankfully, we both seem to feel like we are just talking to a best friend, sharing our ups and downs and trying to figure it all out together — at least that’s how it feels at my end, and it’s really inspiring.

How were you able to balance performing with your day job at Shakespeare and Co.?


It sure has been a balancing act. Kind of like that silly human trick of rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time…it’s not always easy :)! I’ve always felt that women, or at least most of the ones in my life are great at multi-tasking – and luckily it’s something I have been doing here for years so it’s second nature. I just look at the whole picture, plan out my day and be sure give myself plenty of time to prepare before each show – I usually leave the office by 4pm if I have a 7pm show so I can clear out the days clutter in my head, let work go and move into Haley’s world and psyche. And power naps are so under-rated! 


How, if it all will you adjust your performance when the show moves to MRT?


I think I will most likely have to adjust my intentions and up my desire to reach a 300 seat house as opposed to the intimate 100-seat house I have been playing in. I just have to sense if the audience is with me, I can feel it in my bones and in the air if they are ‘getting it’ – the story, so I may have to adjust my volume, my intentions – like tuning a guitar so it’s all in sync and harmony. My first experiences with S&Co. were performances on the 600-seat outdoor Mainstage, and for the past 8 years I have been playing in their 428-seat theatre so I am very familiar and comfortable with playing to larger houses.


Do you have any bad date stories in your past that helped you understand or indentify with you character, Haley?


Oh, boy! Do I. Let’s see, I have code names for all of them of course…there was the ‘chicken man’ – you don’t want to know…the ‘tattoo man’, I couldn’t tell if he actually was wearing a shirt or if he truly had a tattoo that covered his entire body – that just ‘looked like a shirt’…hmmm….oh then there was the ‘kid’ (he said he was 35…turns out he was 23 and I’m like…well, to quote Haley “It doesn’t matter how old I am.” Yes, you can say I have drawn from my personal experiences with bad dates. But not only that,  Haley really has this incredible journey where she goes through a gamut of emotions from elation, to despair, to hopeful, ecstatic happiness, to humiliation and heartbreak – all experiences most of us have had in our lives, which makes this play accessible to so many of us. It holds a mirror up to our lives, our human desires, needs and faith that it will all work out in the end. And if it doesn’t? Well, it’s not the end. 🙂


Finally, is it ever possible to have too many shoes?


In a word, NO.


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Bad Dates Contest Winner

The winner of the Bad Dates story contest is June, who contributed the story Country Boy. Congratulations to June, who receives the Bad Dates prize pack, which includes 2 tickets to Bad Dates, a $50 gift certificate to La Boniche in Lowell, and a bottle of champagne.

What to hear more Bad Dates? Elizabeth Aspenlieder stars as Haley Walker in Bad Dates, running March 19 – April 12 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre.  A hilarious and touching comedy, Bad Dates follows the story of Haley Walker, a single mother with a teenage daughter, a screamingly stressful job, and a collection of 600 pairs of shoes as she tries to find love in the big city. Audiences relive her rotten romances as Tibetan Buddhists and even the Romanian mob get in the way of her finding “Mr. Right.” Her story is a love and fashion odyssey that has had audiences across the country rolling in the aisles!


“…A poignant slice of urban life that also happens to be drop-dead funny.” The Wall Street Journal


Brandeis University theatre professor Adrianne Krstansky, director of Bad Dates, shares “Working with Elizabeth on this wonderful play by Theresa Rebeck has been a hilarious and, at the same time, quite poignant ride. I think anyone who knows what it is like to struggle to raise a child, succeed in a job, keep a roof over their head and dare to find a person with whom to share all the madness will find themselves in this story. Although the play is definitely about the joys and sometimes horror of dating, it is also about our real need for community and the courage it takes to stay put and ask for help from the people around us, rather than thinking yet another exit door will land us in an easier life.”


Tickets are on sale on. Visit Merrimack Repertory Theatre Online for more information.





More Bad Date Stories

The winner will be announced tomorrow, but here are a couple more stories to hold you over until then.

One Too Many Women
By Peter

In 1953 Jeanne was to be my date to see a play. The club we belonged to was sponsoring that evening’s charitable performance. Our first date was not to go as I expected. The club director called me to ask, “Are you driving a sedan?” I innocently replied that I was. Two female members wanted to attend but did not have transportation. She asked me to be their chauffer. I protested. I would be doing it for the good of the club and as a personal favor. My date would be awkward. The director called again asking me to take two more females. I was floored, but I had to relent.

I called Jeanne, explained, and she said that she understood. I arrived at Jeanne’s with four girls in my car. My 1946 Chevrolet had its gear shift under the steering wheel so Jeanne could sit in the front seat. What a ridiculous situation!

On the drive home rain started to fall. My Chevrolet had a fresh air vent controlled by a lever under the dashboard. The vent seal was not watertight and the rain came through onto Jeanne’s shoes – she was now sitting in the middle. I told them that I had ordered a new car – they were not convinced.

I dropped the other girls off first to have time alone with Jeanne. After such an embarrassing evening would Jeanne ever go out with me again?

A Quick Exit
By Ruby

Mary Ann and I were sophomores in college when our mutual friend, Sarah, approached us with her problem. She had agreed to arrange a blind date for two of her brother’s friends from MIT, but discovered that she was to have a major exam that Monday. She pleaded with the two of us to be the blind dates. With a bit of reluctance, but also a bit of curiosity, we agreed to meet the two guys at a restaurant in Coolidge Corner and then take in a movie together.

When we met our serious-faced “dates” at the restaurant we could tell very quickly that they were more interested in eating ribs and chatting intently with each other about some complicated physics problem than they were in getting to know us. We listened politely or tried to ask probing questions, but they were not easily distracted from their own conversation. We left the restaurant and headed to the theater, the two guys deciding what movie we would see, without any discussion with us. After each of us paid the admission and found seats, the guys resumed chatting to each other while Mary Ann and I flattened ourselves to the back of the seats between them. Just before the movie began, Mary Ann suggested that she and I visit the restroom. In the restroom we looked at each other and both of us simultaneously said, “Let’s leave……and we never returned to our seats!”

For fifty two years, I’ve wondered which of us could be accused of bad manners?

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Bad Date Stories


Here are two stories entered in the Bad Dates contest. If you have been on a bad date, email your story to for your chance to win a great date prize. Contest details are below the stories. Enjoy!

Country Boy
By June

My friend Susie gave me a membership in a dating service for my birthday. Bachelor number one met me at a local restaurant for dinner. He had shoulder-length white hair, coke-bottle glasses, and was dressed for a night at the Grand Ole Opry. He told me he was widowed, lived in a trailer park, and had been saving up for this night for several weeks. Just as I was wondering if ordering soup and salad would be an extravagance, I smelled something burning. His menu was on fire. Apparently he failed to notice the lit candle in the center of the table. He extinguished the flames with his water glass and simultaneously drowned the bread basket. Our waitress graciously escorted us to another table.

Half-way through the meal, he excused himself to use “the facilities.” A few seconds later I heard a shriek. Apparently, he had wandered into the ladies room. After he finally sorted it out and returned to the table, I noticed he had about six inches of toilet paper stuck to his cowboy boot. I prayed not to encounter anyone I knew. When the check came, he left the exact amount and told me he didn’t believe in tipping. I felt so sorry for the poor waitress that I told him I left my gloves at the table so I could go back and leave a ten dollar bill. I waved good-bye (forever) as he drove away in his rusty pick-up truck complete with gun rack!

To be Honest…
by Chava

Barry claimed to be 5’8” (my height) on his online profile. I’m hardwired to like guys at least my height, so when he stood up at Legal Seafood to greet me for the first time, I was dismayed. He was 5’5.”
“You’re not 5′ 8”,” I remarked.
“I shrunk.”
There wasn’t much I could do except sit down. He had a little lisp. I’d heard a lisp like that years ago my ex-husband and I got married. The justice of the peace sounded exactly like him. Barry told me about his prostrate cancer and recent bankruptcy over a glass of wine.
“Look Barry, you’re a nice guy, but you shouldn’t tell a woman things like that on a first date.”
“When am I supposed to tell her? What if she finds out later? She’d say I wasn’t being honest.”
“I see your point, but there’s a time for honesty. You didn’t have any problem lying about your height.”
He smiled slyly. “I like you. You’re very direct.” He then told me about his involvement with community theatre and how he loved to sing.
When our glasses were empty, he walked me to my car, in the Mall’s parking lot.
“I’d like to sing to you,”
“That’s okay, really.” I looked around nervously.
“Just a little song?”
“I guess. Just sing softly, okay?”
Barry belted an off-key version of Younger than Spring Time as I cringed inside, while continuing my vigilance until the end.
It was only recently when going through my files that I came across my tattered marriage certificate where the justice of the peace had signed his name. It was Barry.

This isn’t the only bad date that Chava has been on. You can read more on her Dates from Hell Blog.

Send us an email at telling us your bad date story (no more than 250 words).
Comment on this story on our blog telling us your bad date story (no more than 250 words).
Entries will be posted on the MRT Blog and will be judged by a panel of specially selected judges with proven expertise at the art of bad dating,

In order to win we must have your name and email address.

Remember to keep your stories PG-rated. Entries will be judged for outrageousness, believability, and storytelling panache. 1 winner will be chosen on March 10th.

1 winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to La Boniche in Lowell, a bottle of champagne, and 2 tickets to Bad Dates.

All entries must be received by March 8th.

Announcing The MRT Bad Dates Contest

In Bad Dates, coming to Merrimack Repertory Theatre March 19-April 12, Haley Walker takes us through a series of hilarious dates on her search for love. Now is your chance to join in the fun, with the chance to win a great prize pack. Email your “bad date” story of 250 words or less to by March 8. Selected stories will be posted on the MRT Blog.


1 winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to La Boniche in Lowell, a bottle of champagne, and 2 tickets to Bad Dates.


Rules/How to Enter

Send us an email telling us your bad date story (no more than 250 words).

Comment on this story on our blog telling us your bad date story (no more than 250 words).

Entries will be posted on the MRT Blog and will be judged by a panel of specially selected judges with proven expertise at the art of bad dating,


In order to win we must have your name and email address.


Remember to keep your stories PG-rated. Entries will be judged for outrageousness, believability, and storytelling panache. 1 winner will be chosen on March 10th.


All entries must be received by March 8th.


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