Christmas is a time for entertainment. Friends gather for meals. TV specials, movies, theatre and ballet productions, and music concerts. Some entertainment is specifically related to the holidays (A Christmas Carol), other has a scene or two set during the holidays (Meet Me In St. Louis) or is at least something that puts the audience in the mood of the season (The Sound of Music). In contrast to White Christmas and Elf style sentimentality, are anti-Christmasization stories (Charlie Brown Christmas, Santaland Diaries) that question our society’s co-opting of Christmas cheer for stuffing our ego’s stockings. We have our favorite Christmas entertainment traditions. This year, we attended one of the three shows at the Blackfriar Theatre, The 12 Dates of Christmas. We expected that it would be in the anti-Christmas tradition.
Our motivation had more to do with our appreciation of the actress’s (Allison Glenzer) skill than the advertised theme of the one-woman show. By the title, you might expect a sardonic view of holiday relationships. A show about a 30 year old woman trying to find work and love in NYC is about 20 years from relevance for us middle-aged folks. This is not to say that love and commitment are not themes for us and our friends, but the concern has less to do with biological clocks ticking the minutes left for bearing children. Our friends who are seeking companionship are more worried about health history for heart attacks and breast cancer, rather than stamina during sex or potential parenting skills.
The show is based on the premise that Mary, an actress in NYC, has gone to visit her family in Ohio for Thanksgiving. Holidays are big events for her family. While watching the Macy’s Day parade on TV, she sees her fiancee kissing someone else under the mistletoe on TV. The next year is spent seeking another partner in NYC through a series of dates. She relates story after story about the rebound dates, the panderers, stalkers and felons, the one-night wonders and fabulous conversationalist who never call back, the stable-owners and swappers, and a host of other dead-end encounters. We learn about the Personal Policies for dating, such as not exchanging contact information on public transportation.
The show was well done, with 90 minutes speeding by with plenty of laughs. Yet, from the start, Mary warns us that this is not going to be happily wrapped up with the love of her life appearing or being revealed in the last scene to reassure us that life has a comic resolution. In the end, after a year of disappointments, she is still alone, but with a different perspective. I shall not go into more details, other than to say that the conclusion leaves room for personal contemplation.
I reflected back to a phone conversation that I had with my mother prior to the theatre that day. We talked about relationships, family, and finding our voice in the world. We talked about the generations and how each expressed love. Sometime words were shared, other times actions communicated what the person could not articulate. Love is so valued in our society, that at times our attempts to grasp it washes out its meaning. So many other concepts become encompassed in the term: devotion, commitment, concern, carrying, respect, honor, admiration, desire, loyalty, etc. In each example of a date gone a-rye Mary might be exemplifying some aspect of love which was missing in the relationship.
My mother made another astute comment that loving and saying “I love you” are not necessarily inherent skills that we possess. They are something that we learn to do. Dating may seem to be a winnowing process to find one’s love in life. Maybe it is also part of the process of learning to love.
In parallel, Christmas is a time of celebrating the birth of Christ. Some may equate Christ to love. Yet, I think of birth as the beginning point of the relationship. The learning has only started. Marriage, furthermore is not the end point of love, but the beginning of learning to love. Ironically, The 12 Date of Christmas may have more of a Christmas message to it that it intended.