Your Regional Guide To The Performing Arts

Next Act Theatre Explores the Roller Coaster of Romance with One-Woman Comedy

Next Act Theatre Explores the Roller Coaster of Romance with One-Woman Comedy
Photo Credit: Susie Duecker stars as Mary in "The Twelve Dates of Christmas." Photo by Ross Zentner.

Next Act Theatre has built a mission on producing pieces that bring social, cultural and political issues center stage. However, this often makes finding a piece for the November-December slot challenging.


“I’ve learned over the years that people don’t really gravitate to those sort of topics during the holiday time,” says David Cecsarini, producing artistic director of Next Act. “Although I don’t look for something that necessarily has Christmas in the title or has a direct relationship to the holidays, I look for something, or create something that has redemptive value. Something that makes people feel good, while offering a fresh perspective.”


In 2015, after no luck finding a holiday piece that fit the bill, Cecsarini approached playwright Josh Kishline about creating a play set in a Milwaukee radio station on Christmas Eve. This came to be UnSilent Night, which premiered in November 2016.


UnSilent Night followed DJ Frank Willis (Cecsarini) who strove to take risks with his radio programming, despite what his narrow-minded boss had to say. When a black soldier wandered into the station as Frank was getting ready to sign off for the night, the mood of the play shifted and the characters’ personal lives were exposed.

                                                  Andrew Muwonge as Sgt. Earl Venable and David Cecsarini as Frank in 2016's "UnSilent Night." Photo by Ross Zentner. 

While this season’s offering, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, a one-woman show about navigating the dating world, may not sound like a Next Act piece, Cecsarini insists the redemptive quality in the script made it work.

“Mary (the woman) finds a certain peace within her self that allows her to not worry about what other people are saying,” Cecsarini explains. “She becomes comfortable embracing life.”


In The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Ginna Hoben, Mary (Susie Duecker) catches her fiancée kissing another woman on national TV at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. What follows is a year’s worth of luckless romances, building Mary’s cynicism on life and love.


Throughout the course of the play, Duecker will transform into the men Mary is dating and her persistent matchmaking family members.

“People like seeing what happens when an actor transforms voice and body to represent different characters,” Cesarini says. “The play is a crazy odyssey through Mary’s year marked by the different holidays that are passing by.”

From left to right: Kelly Doherty, Susie Duecker, Marcee Doherty-Elst and Jack Forbes Wilson. Photo by Ross Zentner. 

The Twelve Dates of Christmas will also feature the musical stylings of two doo-wop girls, Kelly Doherty and Marcee Doherty-Elst. Although a singing duo doesn’t necessarily have to be in the show, Hoben includes a suggestion in her script to add this element of live music.


Cecsarini brought on Jack Forbes Wilson to music direct and arrange the musical accompaniment to the piece. Together they are also creating a number that parodies of The Sound of Music to open the show.


“There’s hardly a Thanksgiving song out there, so we decided to add our own, called ‘My Thanksgiving Things,’” Cecsarini says. “It just adds entertainment value. The addition of live music is always energetic and fun.”


The Twelve Dates of Christmas, presented by Next Act Theatre, runs Nov. 15 – Dec. 9 at Next Act’s performance space, 255 S. Water St. For tickets visit or call (414) 278-0765.

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