Posts Tagged ‘lee anne mathews’

The Twelve Dates of Christmas
by Ginna Hoben
Directed by Lee Anne Mathews
Westport Playhouse
November 30, 2022

Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Photo: Westport Playhouse

The Twelve Dates of Christmas isn’t a typical “feel-good” holiday show. It’s an off-beat comedy with moments of drama, showcasing a strong performance from the always excellent local performer Jennifer Theby-Quinn. In the small space at Westport Playhouse, the show is a fun, occasionally poignant look at one woman’s year following a breakup and her adventures and misadventures in dating. 

This isn’t a “family show”, considering its language and mature themes, but family figures in the story in a major way, as Mary (Theby-Quinn) finds out about her fiancé’s betrayal in a surprisingly public way, while spending time in her Ohio hometown with family for Thanksgiving.  Over the course of the performance, we hear about Mary’s parents, her exercise-loving sister, and her meddling aunt who is determined to find the “perfect man” for Mary. Over the course of the year, Mary goes through a series of dates and acting jobs in New York City, marking the various men she dates with ornaments on a large projected Christmas tree. Over the course of a little over a year, she meets a variety of men, from the “too good to be true” to the obviously wrong guys, to one or two guys with real possibilities. Mary, who is pursuing an acting career, also recounts some of her acting jobs, as well as a day job as a barista in a coffee shop. Over the year and the series of eventful and uneventful dates, Mary also makes a few new friends, including the jilted ex of one of her dates, and a five-year-old boy who plays Tiny Tim in a production of A Christmas Carol in which Mary is cast. It’s essentially a series of narrated vignettes, as Mary deals with single life in the modern world, and with difficult relatives who she cares about even though she doesn’t appreciate their meddling. 

The play is essentially a showcase for its leading performer, and Theby-Quinn is ideally cast. Adept at comedy, drama, and singing, Theby-Quinn shines as Mary, who experiences the ups-and-downs of the seasons, and the dating scene, aided by some familiar holiday music and a series of clever video projections designed by Margery and Peter Spack, and edited by Lenny Mink and Kurtis Gibbs. There’s also excellent work from lighting designer Daniel MacLaughlin and sound designer Jacob Baxley. This is a fun show for this space, as well, providing some offbeat holiday-themed entertainment and a compelling, if somewhat predictable, story. 

Even though there’s nothing especially innovative about this show, it isn’t trying to be anything but an offbeat exploration of one woman’s journey back from a bad breakup, with a holiday theme and soundtrack. Theby-Quinn proves again that she is a consummate performer, and this is a good showcase for her talents.  If you’re looking for an entertaining, funny, occasionally poignant, occasionally crass holiday show, The Twelve Dates of Christmas is worth a look. 

Westport Playhouse is presenting The Twelve Dates of Christmas until December 23, 2022

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Avenue Q
Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Book by Jeff Whitty
Based on an Original Concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx
Directed by Lee Anne Mathews
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza
January 31, 2019

Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Andrew Keeler Photo by John Flack The Playhouse at Westport Plaza

Avenue Q is a show that advertises its shock value and irreverence. Still, as a sort of adult-oriented (not for kids) riff on Sesame Street, this Tony-winning Best Musical has a surprising amount of heart amidst all that crassness. Now onstage at the Playhouse at Westport in a locally-produced production, this latest iteration boasts a strong cast featuring a few notable local performers.

As fantastical as the setup may be–humans and puppets interacting in a grown-up version of a children’s TV show–a lot of situations are relatable, which is, I think, where Avenue Q gets a lot of its appeal. I mean, for English majors everywhere (such as yours truly), it’s easy to relate to a song called “What Can You Do With a B.A. in English?” The struggle to make one’s way in the adult world is an experience a lot of viewers can imagine, because to one degree or another, we’ve experienced that struggle, as well as the disconnect between childhood dreams and adult realities. Here, the story follows the optimistic puppet Princeton (Andrew Keeler) as he makes his way in the “real world” after college, settling in on Avenue Q and making new friends, including the idealistic Kate Monster (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), bickering roommates Nicky (Kevin O’Brien) and the fastidious Rod (also Keeler), the porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster (also O’Brien), and also human friends, aspiring comic Brian (Brett Ambler) and his fiancée, the clientless therapist Christmas Eve (Tori Manisco at the performance I saw, standing in for principal Grace Langford), as well as jaded former child-star Gary Coleman (Ileana Kirven), who is now the neighborhood superintendent. Amid struggles to succeed and form new relationships, there are also obstacles and temptations, represented primarily in the form of the Bad Idea Bears (O’Brien and April Strelinger) and local lounge performer Lucy the Slut (also Theby-Quinn). It’s a funny, frequently crass, occasionally surprisingly poignant show with some memorable songs, a catchy premise, and a message that manages to be both cynical and hopeful at the same time.

The staging, as usual, is colorful and whimsical, with a brightly colored set by Dunsi Dai that is somewhat reminiscent of Sesame Street, aided by some fun projections by Val Kozlenko. The intimate setting at Westport is a good setting for such a small show, as well. There are also appropriate costumes by Rissa Crozier and excellent lighting by Michael Sullivan. The puppets, conceived and designed by Rick Lyon, are in the recognized Avenue Q style, and the cast members do a good job with bringing them to life onstage.

The small ensemble is well cast, led by the always excellent Theby-Quinn in a winning performance as the determined but unlucky-in-love Kate Monster, and also as the temptress Lucy. It’s especially impressive when both characters are talking to each other, and Theby-Quinn effortlessly transitions between the two different voices. She also displays a strong singing voice on numbers like “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” (as Kate) and “Special” (as Lucy). Keeler is also convincing as the optimistic Princeton and the conflicted Rod, also showing off strong vocals in both roles. O’Brien brings a lot of energy and comic timing to his roles as Nicky, Trekkie, one of the Bad Idea Bears, and more, and Strelinger is impressive in a variety of roles. The human characters are well-portrayed, also, with Manisco (the understudy) impressive as Christmas Eve, who ends up counseling a lot of the characters despite not having any formal clients. Ambler is funny as Brian, and Kirven shows excellent stage presence and a great voice as Gary.

This is a fun show, even if some of the songs have dated a little in the last decade or so, and some of the raunchiness seems to be there for the sake of shock rather than really serving the story. Still, for the most part it holds up well since the last time I saw a production 10 years ago. This edition highlights the comedy but also the heart, and it makes for an entertaining evening of theatre.

Cast of Avenue Q Photo by John Flack The Playhouse at Westport

Avenue Q is running at the Playhouse at Westport until March 3, 2019

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