Get to know Mary over the course of the year. She seems like a nice person. She begins the year dramatically falling out of a serious relationship. She ends the year in a much better place. The year is actually only less than a couple of hours in a small theatre. The woman in question is an actress onstage in Milwaukee playing a stage actress in New York. And since it’s the stage of the Next Act Theater directed by David Cecsarini, it’s a really good show.
The play is The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Ginna Hoben. The actress playing Mary is Susie Duecker. There are a few others on stage with her but she’s the one delivering the story. Since there’s no intermission, this is a little over a year condensed into a little less than two hours without interruption. A largely one-person show is a challenge for any actor. Duecker has no problem being the kind of person who is fully engaging alone under stage lights for a couple of hours. She’s cool. There’s a down-to-earth Midwestern charm about her. She gives the character an emotional reality that feels very much like a full year's worth of happiness, anxiety and everything in between. Duecker has a presence onstage that makes the formality of the theatre feel almost immaterial. There is a great emotional warmth about it. It’s casual. But it’s classy too. This isn’t some Lifetime holiday movie.
It’s a very social and conversational script. The monologue is charming and witty. The character feels very approachable. Any discussion of the plot, though...would entirely miss the point. If the title sounds like an annoyingly cloying made-for-TV movie from a few years back, that’s because it WAS the title of an annoyingly cloying made-for-TV movie from a few years back starring Amy Smart. (2011. ABC Family.) Hoben’s script, which was published in 2012, is completely different from the TV movie of the same name, but that doesn’t change the fact that a synopsis of the play would sound like something out of, “Fa La La La Lifetime.”
Mary sees her fiancee making out with a girl from the office live on national TV during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Will she have a string of awkward dates as a newly single woman? Absolutely. Will she learn to find love in a small town with a single father by the end of the story? Not exactly, but on a plot-level this is still really close to being cheesy holiday TV fare. The weird thing is...it doesn’t matter. Duecker is so good at being so heartbreakingly earnest with the emotional end of the comic drama. It feels very emotionally authentic. No cheesy made for TV lighting. No wholesome locations in the US that actually turn out to be filming locations in Canada. No awkwardly stiff soap opera acting here. Duecker gives it all a genuine emotional appeal. It’s all quite warm and classy.
Duecker’s delivering heartfelt earnestness in a cozy environment. She’s got the warmth. The classiness comes in from the back-up. Charismatic piano man Jack Forbes Wilson lends the show a little atmosphere in the background. Joining him are The Doherty Sisters, who also serve to assist Duecker throughout the show. Marcee Doherty-Elst and Kelly Doherty lend the a speechlessly festive attitude throughout the show that lends some humor around the edges of a very satisfying couple of hours with a fictitious actress brought to vivid life by a very real Susie Duecker.
Next Act Theatre’s staging of The Twelve Days of Christmas runs through Dec. 9 at Next Act’s space on 255 S. Water St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.