Asking an actor to carry an entire show presents a formidable challenge, but Deena Marie Manzanares proves more than up to the task in “The Twelve Dates of Christmas,” Pygmalion Productions’ debut offering this season. Entertaining an audience for 90 minutes takes an actor who has either plenty of charm or talent, and Manzanares is blessed with both.
Ginna Hoben created the romantic comedy as a performance piece for herself, backed up by a trio of doo wop singers. In the original show, she played all the peripheral characters, but director Barbara Gandy has wisely chosen to divvy those parts up among the singers, which gives Manzanares the opportunity to play off of other actors and injects a jolt of collaborative energy into the production.
Manzanares plays Mary, a young New Yorker who views her engagement ring as “the promise of love-filled holidays forever.” However, while enjoying Thanksgiving with her family in Ohio, Mary catches a glimpse on television of her fiancé nuzzling another woman at the annual Macy’s parade.
“Everything I’ve been counting on — reality as I know it — is destroyed,” she tells us and then proceeds to describe “a year’s worth of holiday disasters” with various men she meets and dates.
Along the way, she holds a drunken debate with herself whether or not to kiss an old friend on New Year’s Eve, reels off a long list of the duties of being maid of honor at her sister Sally’s wedding, explains how ordering the perfect man compares to ordering the perfect pizza, describes the disastrous consequences of breaking her cardinal rule: “Do not give out private information on public transportation,” and imitates a failing artificial tree singing “Silent Night” in the lobby of her apartment building.
Doo wop singers Angela Trusty, Marylynn Ehrengard and Tamara Johnson Howell sing snatches of appropriate songs, ranging from “Deck the Halls” to “Hush, Little Baby” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” accompanied by Howell on guitar, and portray a bevy of colorful, quirky characters. Howell, who has a lovely voice, adds some sweet solos.
John Wayne Cook’s simple split set features a living room with a Christmas tree stage right and a platform for the doo wop singers stage left. Every time Mary rejects a boyfriend, she puts an ornament on the tree, and it chimes and lights up. James Kline Larsen’s warm area lighting creates a feeling of intimacy. Gandy’s direction is efficient but embellished with humorous touches.
“The Twelve Dates of Christmas” is lightweight holiday fun, but its feminine perspective allows Manzanares and her supporting trio of ladies to shine.
‘The Twelve Dates of Christmas’
R Deena Marie Manzanares’ standout performance in “The Twelve Dates of Christmas” gets the holiday season rolling early.
When • Reviewed on Friday; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 16 with an extra matinee on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 2 p.m.
Where • Leona Wagner Black Box Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Tickets are $20 in advance; $25 day of the show with discounts for students. Call 355-ARTS or visit www.arttix.org for tickets and www.pygmalionproductions.org for information. The show contains adult language.
Running time • 90 minutes (no intermission).