A holiday lament: Why does Maggie Lakis have to be so adorable? Midway through Act II Playhouse's funny, heartfelt The Twelve Dates of Christmas, I sat back in my chair, comfortably ensconced in my loathing of her character, Mary.

And why not? Mary spent the first 40 minutes of Ginna Hoben's one-woman monologue lamenting her life. While Mary traveled to visit family for Thanksgiving, her fiance cheated on her with his much younger secretary. She immediately met the perfect guy (at the worst time), and then rebounded her way through a series of first, though rarely second, dates with a loser's dozen of grown adolescents, too-eager betas, and inarticulate bad boys.

But I didn't feel sympathy (in fairness, despite Mary's whining, Hoben's script didn't really ask for any). In addition to using one of her first-date schlubs for a job, Mary views the infidelity as a missed opportunity for "never spending another holiday alone" and the derailment of her tidy little agenda for a husband and family.

However, like so many of her thirtysomething, never-married, childless contemporaries on Match.com, OK Cupid, and Plenty of Fish, Mary holds on to her plans for family, high standards for men, and hope.

Tony Braithwaite's direction adds his flair for storytelling, letting the audience reflect in long pauses while Mary adorns a Christmas tree with bad-date mementos, and using John Stovicek's throwback sound design of bells and whistles to provide an underscoring current of humor. Few R-rated moments intrude, though parents with kids might need to explain (or not) why her head bobbed in one interlude.

In the wrong hands, Mary's optimism - even through bouts of seething anger - would seem delusional, if not inviting of pity. But Lakis' good-natured charm and down-home goodness turn Hoben's script into something better than the playwright's words can manage: an affecting, heart-warming holiday tale about dating-market regrets and the slim Christmas-wish of a chance that "next year will be better."


The Twelve Dates of Christmas Through Dec. 29 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave. Ambler. Tickets: $27 to $34. Information: 215-654-0200 or act2.org