Review: Finding true love in ‘The Twelve Dates of Christmas’

 Maggie Lakis in 'The Twelve Dates of Christmas' at Act II Playhouse in Ambler. (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

Maggie Lakis in 'The Twelve Dates of Christmas' at Act II Playhouse in Ambler. (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a song about the gifts a true love gives. “The Twelve Dates of Christmas,” at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, is about a true love, or trying to find one.

It’s a 90-minute monologue built on the theme of holidays and seasonal changes over the course of a year of relationships, thus the 12 dates. It has a lot of the sarcasm of a popular Christmastime monologue, David Sedaris’ “SantaLand Diaries,” which has blossomed over the years from an essay to a holiday show. But Sedaris needn’t worry.

“The Twelve Dates of Christmas” is full of irony and commentary, and Maggie Lakis’ performance at Act II sometimes over-emphasizes those parts of the story, written to get us on her character’s side. Overall, Lakis is appealing and spunky in this one-woman show, which begins when Mary, her character, describes how she and her fiancé break up on Thanksgiving after his infidelity is revealed in a coincidental and shocking way.

From that point, in the script by playwright/actress Ginna Hoben, Mary takes us through her year of hurt and pain and looking for Mr. Right. Each time she discards one of her dates (or is discarded by them), she hangs some token from the relationship on a Christmas tree – a theatrical device that looks goods but makes little sense: By year’s end, what will she do – look on her tree as a catalogue of disappointment and failure?

“The Twelve Dates of Christmas” is a story of emotional pain that’s supposed to be witty holiday fun. But unless the material is over-the-top, it’s not easy to make fun out of such stuff — the show’s character has been dumped big-time, and everything else she tells us about these mostly mundane match-ups is a reaction, or seems to be. Although the script revs with some good laughs in the second half, when Lakis herself also is fully settled into it, the show’s not clever enough to sustain the tales of a dozen guys over 90 minutes.

Act II producing artistic director Tony Braithwaite provides a snappy staging for “The Twelve Dates of Christmas” — Braithwaite himself is a master comic and knows how to control the rhythms of a script to wring out the humor. But again, he has too little to work with, so “The Twelve Dates of Christmas” has all the energy and in Lakis, all the performing talent. What it needs is the material to match.

“The Twelve Dates of Christmas” runs through Dec. 29 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler. 215-654-0200 or www.act2.org.

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