SALT LAKE CITY — Getting through the holidays can be a chore for the single, and even more so for the broken-hearted. Pygmalion Theater Company’s The 12 Dates of Christmas by Ginna Hoben is a chronicle of getting through the holidays with a broken heart.
Mary is a New York actress who, while home for the holidays, catches her fiancé kissing another woman on national television. Crushed by the betrayal, Mary struggles to get back on her feet, continueg to pursue her acting career, pick up a job in a café, and move her way through a string of suitors and one-night stands. Successes, heartbreak, and family drama ensues in a challenging year that highlights how difficult it can be to move on.
Pygmalion’s stated mission is to represent the feminine voice, and The 12 Dates of Christmas certainly fills that mission. Every character, from the a six-year-old Tiny Tim to the Mary’s delightfully over-the-top mother is portrayed by one of three doo-wop girls (Marylynn Ehrengard, Angela Trusty, and Tamara Howell respectively). The convention certainly gave me pause. Gender-bending is a common enough convention in Shakespeare, but more unique in the context of a contemporary comedy. Ehrengard, Trusty, and Howell were a solid ensemble, each creating a range of easily distinguishable characters. Trusty’s youthful mannerisms as Tiny Tim, Ehrengard’s piercing voice as the overbearing aunt, and Howell’s rapid speech patterns and understated mannerisms as Tim’s father were some of the strongest characterizations of the evening. Director Barbara Gandy’s choice to use them as a sort of Christmas choir created a strong sense of unity in the show and led to some excellent comic moments, including a brief yet brilliant reference to the film Psycho.
However, carrying the bulk of the show is the responsibility of Deena Marie Manzanares as Mary. A solid actress, Manzanares manages to pull a lot of humor out of what is, in essence, an 80 minute monologue. Particularly funny were moments when her everyday troubles related to her onstage portrayals (was Lady Macbeth really wrong to WANT something more for herself?) and with her zany mother (vegetarian pizza was never such a naughty metaphor).
Yet, in spite of some successes, this production failed to ever truly ignite. Mary’s initial heart break never seemed more than superficial, making it difficult for me to fully invest in her story. This is partially due to weaknesses in the script. The plot meanders from incidental event to incidental event before winding down to an ending that is both sacharrine and cliché. There is little to tie everything together. So, while individual stories might be enjoyable, they begin to feel repetitive and contribute little to a larger story. A greater focus on the rising family conflict could have lent greater continuity, but the story felt rushed and under-motivated. Were the circumstances of the argument really enough to cause that drastic of a rift? Did the separation really affect Mary? Finally, the biggest why was “Why now?” As a Christmas offering, Twelve Dates is an appropriate choice, but more difficult to appreciate the day after Halloween. A female-driven holiday vehicle makes an interesting additional to the annual Christmas line-up, but the production timing seemed woefully premature.
The show features solid design work. Mikal Klee’s soundscape is appropriate for the fits seamlessly into the fabric of the show. The chime effect that is repeated each time Mary places a new ornament on the tree helps solidify the impact of each date. James Larsen’s lighting is warm and fitting for the holiday season and works some magic in a small space. The lights that Larsen used to a create a cathedral scene were simply breathtaking.
There is clearly a lot of craft at work in Pygmalion’s latest offering, and a moderate dose of the Christmas spirit. The humor is cleverly crafted, and the ending is typical of a holiday offering. If you’re in the mood for a Christmas pick-me-up a little bit before Thanksgiving, then Pygmalion’s latest production might be worth a look.