There is a point in Ginna Hoben's play The 12 Dates of Christmas when our heroine, Mary, decides to go to a movie.
"She says, 'Out of all the happy holiday films, I looked for the single cinematic spectacle that won't mock my ordinary life,'" says Ellie Clark, who plays Mary in Project SEE Theatre's production of 12 Dates. "There definitely is some reference to everything being so happy around the holidays, and if you're not happy, you feel like the entire world is mocking you at that moment."
Her play, which opens Friday at the Downtown Arts Center, won't do that, and neither will David Sedaris' The SantaLand Diaries, which opens Thursday at the theater. SantaLand, produced by Actors Guild of Lexington, and 12 Dates will run in rotating repertory at the DAC for the next two weekends.
Both one-person shows offer a sobering — Clark and SantaLand star Tim Hull use the word cynical — look at the supposedly most wonderful time of the year from the epicenter of commercial American Christmas cheer, the Macy's department store in New York's Herald Square.
Mary's idyllic Christmas and future dreams are shattered on Thanksgiving morning when she tunes into the Macy's parade and sees her boyfriend, whom she thought was "the guy," kissing another woman. It sets her off on a yearlong dating journey centered on the holidays between Christmases.
In SantaLand, which Actors Guild has produced twice before, playwright Sedaris recounts his time as an elf in the Santa display at Macy's and how that altered his view of the holiday, himself and his fellow human beings.
Hull says, "I get the impression he was maybe somewhat of an idealist at some point and kind of had his hopes for how people should behave and how things should be sort of crushed."
Hull performed SantaLand for AGL two years ago in the old Portabella restaurant space off Richmond Road. Scott Wichmann played the elf in AGL's 2004 production, which was at the Downtown Arts Center.
Clark, a co-director of Project SEE, says her new troupe originally thought of presenting SantaLand and asking Hull to do it. But they decided that the show was Actors Guild's property and they should leave it alone. But when they decided to present 12 Dates by Hoben, who just finished a stint as a visiting artist at Transylvania University, they decided to approach Actors Guild about a collaboration.
"We are definitely teaming up," said Clark, who notes that the theaters are sharing costs, personnel and profits from the shows, which feature Lexington-based actors who have had substantial experience in larger markets.
Clark was based in New York for much of the past decade before coming back to Lexington; she also works in theaters around the Southeastern United States. Hull trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and worked in New York for a while before enlisting in the Army and serving in Iraq. Since returning to Lexington in 2007, he has been a stage regular, most recently starring in Studio Players' production of The 39 Steps.
SantaLand was his first one-person show, and 12 Dates will be Clark's.
"It was a great lesson for me as an actor," Hull says. "The biggest thing I learned was to relax and have fun."
Clark says, "The people who do one-woman and one-man shows are usually these fascinating people. It makes you think, 'Am I fascinating enough for people to want to watch me for a whole show?'"
Both actors take their characters on journeys that are very real but do end in moments that, while maybe not magical, are redemptive.
"I really enjoy giving the audience the magical experience, and it's fun seeing kids get that experience," says Clark, whose previous credits include Actors Theatre of Louisville's annual production of A Christmas Carol. "It will be really nice to have an audience of adults experiencing a Christmas story they haven't heard, but it's still heartwarming and has a little bit of the magic."