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Ever been beleaguered by the holidays, when hyped expectations of happiness and good will meet the painful realities of a failed relationship in a head-on collision? Are you amused by the plethora of idiots out there, or perplexed by the slings and arrows of bad timing, bad luck, bad (though well-meaning) meddling from friends and family? Ever want to just throw your hands up and quit looking altogether? If so, this one-woman romantic comedy by NC Stage Company 's Ginna Hoben, directed by Anne Thibault and starring Julia VanderVeen, is for you.
VanderVeen is a tremendously gifted actress with a wide vocabulary of facial and bodily gestures to depict the various characters in the script. Her sense of timing, so essential to comedy, is flawless. The minimal scenery of a single Christmas tree, garland, and a bench were all the props needed. I was disappointed that the playbill contained no biographical information about her.*
90 minutes is all it takes for VanderVeen, as a 30ish NY actress Mary, to take us on a year-long sequence of romantic mishaps. It all starts on Thanksgiving Day at the family home in Ohio when Mary discovers her fiancé's infidelity. As happens throughout the play, that painful realization is intensified by its proximity to a joy-filled event — in this case, her sister's engagement. Musical phrases from familiar carols and tunes, the kind one hears everywhere during the holiday, are piped in as both laugh track and dramatic underscoring of the show's pivotal themes. Once the family is apprised of Mary's dilemma, the hunt is on for her new man, spear-headed first by Aunt Cathy, who invites to her annual Egg Nog Party man #1. Edward is so perfect he's quickly deemed "too good to be true" and Mary breaks the date. Other prospects are encountered back home in NY — a former "old friend" who is conveniently and newly single, a pediatrician with wandering lusts, an Irish bartender 10 years her junior (so what's wrong with a one-night stand?), two wedding guests, and three different customers of various violent persuasions ("1-hit wonders") from the coffee shop where she works part-time. Another thread in her story is her acting career, which leads to a role as the Spirit of Christmas Past (read "pissed") in A Christmas Carol. She dotes on the lovable Tiny Tim and eventually meets his erratic father, where romance looms once again, her expectations tempered by the stings of past experience. Underlying her comic and often desperate search for a partner is that paradoxical facing of the inner self, warts and all, and finding peace, even happiness, in solitude.
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*Facebook tells us she "studied music theatre at Illinois Wesleyan University, lives in Fort Worth, and is from Asheville."