Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Twelve Dates of Christmas
Director Lee Anne Mathews has approximately the same condition as I do. But here it seems she can't tell a "hamburger" actor (like I used to be) from a filet mignon of a performer like Jennifer Theby-Quinn. The talented actress plays Mary in this 90-minute one-woman show about the rat's maze of comical (and sometimes touching) pitfalls of searching for Mr. Right. The audience seemed exhausted by the play in the end.
There's a lot of run-of-the-mill, (usually) jokey devastation that lightly passes for modern heartbreak for a 30-something gal in New York City. Introspection is almost non-existent, and conversations with dates or friends are hastily summarized rather than performed. The dance of romance is with a Jumbotron TV backdrop this time, rather than with any particular fellow.
And who knows? Maybe the production itself got dealt a rotten hand by current events: in a "post-Roe" environment in Missouri, the stakes for young women out in the audience have suddenly gotten higher, if they date a lot or even just date one person regularly. And so I couldn't help but wonder: had Gen-Z suddenly aged out of their own Sex and the City years, too horribly soon?
In its present form, The Twelve Dates of Christmas is merely a highway interchange with too many graceful off-ramps, more than a show, emptying out time and again with a sad predictability. Along with lots of clever, huge, retina-scorching LED animations by the ace set designers Peter and Margery Speck, and admittedly excellent video editing and photography by Lenny Mink and Kurtis Gibbs. And flawless work by audio/video technician Joel Wilper. But it is a very tech-heavy show, about a very non-technical young woman, who somehow hasn't had the time to begin to sort out her own life yet, nearly halfway in.
The independent quartet of young women leaving the audience in front of me after the show seemed weary and resigned, but still yearning to have some kind of fun on a Friday night. To me, they appeared eager to escape the show's unspoken theme of the disappointments of being an independent young woman. And what kind of marketing gimmick is that?
Performance wise, Ms. Theby-Quinn does a masterful job, holding the spotlight for an hour and a half, with meticulous attention to her own pacing and sheer boldness, and displaying marvels of delicate subtlety. But there's no time for her to go crazy or to have a meta-realization, wondering at the fibrillation of her own life. In the "perfected" version in my head, she would cast a rock at the barrage of cartoonish images on the giant screen behind her, and it would go utterly black for 10 seconds. An actress like this needs no words to tell her inner story in a moment like that.
So in the end, TV is still usually hamburger, and theater is still usually steak, and this is one area where I can still usually tell the difference. In the theater, we pay to see unexpected mixtures of emotion, painstakingly measured out in the moment in the "infinite now" of live performance–and all with the appearance of unguarded spontaneity. Well, I didn't pay, but you will. Somehow it feels like it still cost me something.
The Twelve Dates of Christmas runs through December 23, 2022, at the Westport Playhouse (accessible from the east parking lot of Westport Plaza), 635 W Port Plaza Dr, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please visit www.westportplay.com.
Mary: Jennifer Theby-Quinn*
* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association