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The 12 Dates of Christmas

One Woman's Epiphany
on Love and Romance

By Ginna Hoben
American Shakespeare Center, Blackfriars Playhouse, Staunton, Va.
Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010, D–7&8 (center stalls)
Directed by Jim Warren

Ginna Hoben in 12 Dates of Christmas: photo courtesy of the American Shakespeare CenterMaking its world premier in this ASC holiday season, The 12 Dates of Christmas has the kind of sharp writing and insights that could yet escalate it into the Christmas tradition repertoire. Ginna Hoben's monologue, with many autobiographical references, is much more than a rant at men or even at the dating scene. It's a woman's account of navigating through a variety of human relationships, not only male-female but mother-daughter, sister-sister, woman-woman, and adult-child. In a most subtle way she illustrates how holidays can shape these relationships, too; and how, sometimes, the mold is not a true one.

This is the first time we've seen Hoben the writer, but another revelation of 12 Dates was Hoben the actress. We've seen her in a variety of roles the past couple of years, from Hamlet's and Stoppard's Guildenstern and All's Well's Helena to Henry IV's Doll Tearsheet and Taming's and Othello's Biancas; but we've never seen her exhibit as much character range as she did in the 90-minute passage of 12 Dates. She played, in turn (and sometimes simultaneously), her aunt, her mother, her sister, her one-time rival and now best friend, a succession of boyfriends, and a 5-year-old actor playing Tiny Tim. As herself (“Mary”), she played a woman in a yearlong emotional tunnel of love: hurt, hopeful, skeptical, eager, tentative, reckless, angry, and finally giving in to the throes of true love.

To call this a one-woman show, however, is false advertising. Kelley McKinnon and Brandi Rhome provided music for the transitions from holiday to holiday (and relationship to relationship) and sometimes interposed in the monologue. Most notable was their combining to give Hoben a right cross across the jaw at the moment she was contemplating accepting an invitation from the man whose dumping her on Thanksgiving Day instigated the 12 Dates of Christmas.

There is talk of staging it again next year at ASC, with or without Hoben in the part. With her would again showcase this actress' talent, but without her would truly test her script's staying power. There is reason to believe this script can pass the test.

Eric Minton
December 28, 2010

Sunday, December 11, 2011, L–17&18 (Lords Chairs, right of stage)

It had been a year since Mary broke up with her fiancé after catching him cheating Thanksgiving Day on national television. Over the course of that year (an hour of stage time), we came to know Mary through her aborted romances, doomed romances, and misguided romances, a sister's wedding and a festering family feud, too. And so, when her ex-fiancé suddenly showed up again, a woman in the audience loudly exclaimed, “Oh, no!” These are the golden moments for an actor and audience, and Ginna Hoben's show garners a few such reactions from women and men who have been on one side or the other of Mary's travails.

It had been a year (in real time) since we saw this play make its world premier at the Blackfriars, and seeing the show's reprisal with Hoben again playing the part she wrote confirmed her play's audience appeal. But to attain inclusion in the annual repertoire of Christmas-themed shows requires repeat appeal. Using my wife's and my reactions as a gauge, 12 Dates passes this test, too. Hoben tweaked the play after its initial Blackfriars run and playing it at a couple of festivals, but even the retained material still played as fresh. We looked forward to her New Years predicament and her first encounter with Maggie the rival. We laughed anew at jokes we anticipated and newly laughed at jokes we didn't catch the first time. We shook our heads when she dropped Edward (watching it the first time I didn't realize how fateful that would be) and later felt a pang of sympathy again when Guy Number Two didn't call after she had declined a second date with Guy Number One. And we all thought “uh-oh” when the ex-fiancé showed up even if we didn't speak our thoughts out loud.

The question of whether this show can play without its author was answered this year, as well. In addition to the Blackfriars' production, 12 Dates of Christmas was playing this season, with other women in the role of Mary, at N.C. Stage Company in Asheville and Project SEE Theatre in Lexington, Ky. Hoben has created a woman's show to join the annual, male-dominated Christmas lineup, but like Santaland Diaries, it is a tale of real life and holiday hope touching us all.

December 15, 2011

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