By Lynn Venhaus

The promising new direction of the Westport Playhouse as a live entertainment venue bodes well for the future, and the one-woman holiday show, “The Twelve Dates of Christmas,” appeals to merry revelers.

Actor/playwright Ginna Hoben wrote this personal comedy that was first performed in 2010, and it’s a heartfelt and humorous chronicle of her dating hits and misses during a calendar year.

After starting out the mega-holiday season with Thanksgiving at her family’s home in Ohio, the lead character Mary must endure the humiliation of seeing her fiancé kiss his co-worker on national television during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is after he bailed on the trip, saying he was ill.

Oh, the horror of the life you expected vs. the real world is the gift that keeps on giving during the Christmas holiday and beyond. And those pesky female relatives that offer advice or judgment or know better.

Mary is an actress, and obviously a drama queen, sharing her rocky journey. The versatile Jennifer Theby Quinn dials it up to 11 sometimes to depict the jilted, bitter, and frustrated single woman. She does find the funny in the pathos – I mean, you kinda sorta must for survival.

She conveys a gamut of emotions, as she allows herself to jump back into the dating world. Some of the romances are weird, creepy, absurd, and comical, which leads to cynicism, but there are glimmers of hope – and more heartbreak.

The material lends itself to broad interpretations, and in its format, is not as polished as the Hallmark Channel rom-coms, yet there are nuggets of recognition in the hook-ups.

When fate intervenes in a good way, Theby-Quinn is at her best in the quieter, more touching moments — those heart-on-sleeve confessions, and revelations where she is at her most natural.

The genuine encounters with a charming little boy playing Tiny Tim in a production Mary is in are designed to tug at the heartstrings. And Theby-Quinn is effective in depicting the sweetness she experiences dealing with such an innocent 5-year-old. You can feel your heart melt as hers does (and she differentiates the characters well).

A sunny presence, Theby-Quinn is energized by the audience and works hard to engage them. To keep the show lively, director Lee Anne Mathews has kept her moving all over the stage so it’s not as boxed in as other solo shows.

That’s a lot of stamina for 90 minutes, and it’s a demanding run as well (nearly a month). She’s a tenacious trouper, familiar with the space, after playing Kate Monster in “Avenue Q” in 2019 and Fiona in “Flanagan’s Wake” in early 2020, then forced to shut down during the coronavirus lockdown.

Theby-Quinn is one of the most skilled performers in St. Louis, impressive in dramas, comedies, and musicals, earning two St. Louis Theater Circle Awards and multiple nominations.

She can plum more emotional depths, given tougher material, as these lightweight vignettes are designed to mostly elicit laughs and resonate. (But does an actress in the big city? Of course – because she’s as exhausted as other single women — “One hundred and twenty-five jackasses it takes to meet one decent man!” is my favorite line. We can all empathize).

Single women who have been unlucky at love and those who have had good relationships that didn’t work out, can understand Mary’s quest for Mr. Right. Perhaps the material would be more endearing if there was a guy to tango with, but Mary ‘s tasked with performing other characters (about a dozen) vocally, and that helps.

The snazzy production values – a large LED screen adds perky images and clever animated artwork from master video designers Margery and Peter Spack – help to open it and add to the storytelling, instead of having a boxed-in feeling that can typically happen in solo shows.

It was late in the run when I saw it, and the sound was distorted at times, but according to colleagues who had seen it on different nights, it was just fine, no problems.

Jacob Baxley incorporates a fine mix of songs to enhance the holidays throughout the year, and Dan MacLaughlin’s lighting design adds warmth. Liz Henning is listed as a wardrobe consultant, and that’s always a good sign. Lenny Mink’s and Kurtis Gibbs’ video editing and photography enhances the show, as does Joel Wilper’s work as an audio/video technician.

One can understand the desire for a crowd-pleaser at this crazy-busy time of year when everyone’s trying to have a joyous holiday season, and that this is a tad overzealous in trying to ramp up the jolly.

But the sincerity and goodwill evident both on and off stage works in its favor.


“The 12 Dates of Christmas” runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23 at the Westport Plaza, in the Westport Plaza Business and Entertainment District. Because of COVID-cancellation at the run’s end, a special 2 p.m. performance on Dec. 30 has been scheduled and tickets available at the box office. For more information, visit www.thewestportplayhouse.com

By Lynn Venhaus
A 10-time Tony winner’s national tour comes to the ‘Lou, world premieres of “The Roommate” and last chance to see a whole roster of shows. There is a feast of choices as we usher March in, and spring can’t be far behind. Here’s what’s on local stages.


“Annapurna”
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
The Gaslight Theatre
N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis
Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 3 p.m.
Feb. 14 – March 1
www.stlas.org
314-458-2978

Laurie McConnell and John Pierson star as Emma and Ulysses in Sharr White’s play about love and loss in the backdrop of the Colorado Rockies. Once married, they have a child, but haven’t seen each other for a long time.

Our review:
https://www.poplifestl.com/oh-those-ties-that-bind-an-extraordinary-annapurna-at-st-louis-actors-studio/

The Band’s Visit touring show

“The Band’s Visit”
Fox Theatre
527 N. Grand
Feb. 25 – March 8
www.fabulousfox.com

Winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2018, this joyously offbeat story is set in a remote town where a band of musicians arrive, lost. They bring the town to life in unexpected ways. This is an adaptation of a 2007 Israeli film, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek. It is performed without intermission.

Here is our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/unforgettable-music-big-heart-distinguish-tony-winner-the-bands-visit-at-the-fox/

“The Ever After”
Curtain’s Up
Saturday, Feb. 29, at 6:30 p.m.
Dunham Hall, SIUEdwardsville
www.curtainsuptheater.com

A cheesy talk show host invites familiar fairy tale characters who have been estranged for 20 years to reconcile on the show.

Brett Amber


 “Flanagan’s Wake”
Emery Entertainment
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza
635 Westport Plaza
Jan. 24 – March 21
www.playhouseatwestport.com

This interactive hit show from Chicago is set in an Irish pub, and Flanagan’s family and friends give him a comedic memorial with plenty o’ pints, crazy sing-a-longs and witty tales.
Cast includes Brian Ballybunion, Fiona Finn (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), Mickey Finn Father Damon Fitzgerald (Patrick Blindauer), Kathleen Mooney, Mayor Martin O’Doul

Our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/flanagans-wake-a-raucous-raunchy-ribald-romp/

“Ghost”
Metro Theatre Company
Feb. 2 – March 1
Fridays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
The Grandel Theatre
3610 Grandel Square
www.metroplays.org

World premiere of a new play adapted by Idris Goodwin from Jason Reynolds’ award-winning bestseller for young readers. Castle Cranshaw, aka “Ghost,” has only known running, but he runs for all the wrong reasons until he meets Coach. Directed by Jacqueline Thompson and stars

“Men on Boats”
The Performing Arts Department at Washington University
Feb. 21 – March 1
Edison Theatre on campus
pad.artsci.wustl.edu

John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers is a 19th century journey.

“The Mystery of Irma Vep”
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Feb. 14 – March 8
Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus
www.repstl.org

One dark and stormy night…two actors play eight characters, with a few dozen costume changes, a lot of wigs and a blending of classic horror, B-movie mysteries and farce.  
Charles Ludlam’s supernatural comedy includes a newly revived mummy, a mysterious portrait, a family curse and a howling werewolf.

Our Review: https://www.poplifestl.com/campy-farce-irma-vep-cant-hold-audience/

“The Office! A Musical Parody”
Emery Entertainment
March 4 – 8
Wednesday-Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Grandel Theatre
Tickets: Metrotix 314-534-1111 or one hour before showtime at Grandel box office.
www.theofficemusicalparody.com/tour

Dunder Mifflin is opening an office near you. This is the third North American tour of the unauthorized off-Broadway show, written by Bob and Tobly McSmith. It is still playing at the Jerry Orbach Theatre at 210 West 50th Street in NYC.

Mashable calls it “the world’s most elaborate inside job, created with a whole lot of love, just for fans.” It’s a typical morning at Scranton’s third largest paper company until, for no logical reason, a documentary crew begins filming the lives of the employees.

“Picnic”
Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts
Feb. 20 – March 1
Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Stage III Auditorium
www.webster.edu
314-968-7128

William Inge’s play is set in a small town one Labor Day Weekend in the joint backyards of two widows. One lives with her two daughters and a boarder; the other is a woman and her mother. A studly young man, Hall, comes to town, and the resulting electrical charge causes some friction.

Photo by John Lamb


“The Roommate”
The West End Players Guild
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Additional Thursday show Feb. 27 at 8 p.m.
Feb. 21 – March 1
Union Avenue Christian Church
733 N. Union at Enright
www.westendplayers.org
314-367-0025

St. Louis premiere of Jen Silverman’s contemporary comedy has been described as “The Odd Couple” meets “Breaking Bad.” Sharon, a divorced empty nester takes on a roommate in her Iowa City house – and Robyn has come from the Bronx. She has a mysterious, shady past who moves around a lot. She is everything Sharon is not — a vegan and gay, for starters. They begin to influence each other in surprising ways.

“Saint Joan of Arc”
The University Theatre at Saint Louis University
Collaborative piece with Prison Performing Arts
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Feb. 21 – March 1
Kranzberg Arts Center
501 N. Grand
Tickets: www.metrotix.com

Inspired by love of God and country, Joan became a 15th century French military leader. This is a contemporary retelling directed by Lucy Cashion.

“Spell #7”
The Black Rep
Wednesday at
Feb. 19 – March 8
A.E. Hotchner Studio at Washington University.
www.theblackrep.org


Ntozake Shange’s Spell #7 is a choreopoem set in a bar in St. Louis frequented by Black artists and musicians, actors, and performers. In a series of dreamlike vignettes and poetic monologues, they commiserate about the difficulties they face as black artist.


“Transluminate”
A short-play festival
The Q Collective
Thursday and Friday, Feb. 27 and 28, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 29, at 4 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 4 p.m.
The Chapel
6238 Alexander Drive
www.theqcollective.theater

“The Vagina Monologues”
St. Louis College of Pharmacy
Friday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.
Academic and Research Building Auditorium
4531 Children’s Place, St. Louis, MO 63110
Tickets: $5 at the door (cash only) or available for purchase on Eventbrite ahead of time

Note: All proceeds from ticket and dessert sales will go directly to Lydia’s House in St. Louis

Eve Ensler’s play is based on interviews with more than 200 women. With humor and grave, the piece celebrates sexuality and strength. Through this play and the liberation of this one-word, countless people throughout the world have taken control of their bodies and their lives.

The play gave birth to V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against all women and girls. Activists are working to end harassment, rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sex slavery. (https://www.vday.org/homepage.html)

It is sponsored by the Department of Liberal Arts and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. For more information, email angela.doerr@stlcop.edu

Lydia’s House works in faith to end domestic violence by being a place of healing and a voice of hope for abused women and their children.” (https://www.lydiashouse.org/)