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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

12 Days of Christmas
Brelby Theatre Company

Also see Gil's reviews of The Quiltmaker's Gift, Mother Hicks and A Christmas Carol

Mat Vansen, David Magadan, Melissa Kamel, Brian Maticic, Melody Chrispen, Jesse Taggart, and Jaren Navenma
The month of December is usually filled with numerous theatrical adaptations of familiar Christmas classics. So it's refreshing that Brelby Theatre Company in Glendale is presenting the new original piece 12 Days of Christmas which focuses on a couple facing a crossroads in their lives and the group of friends that surrounds them set during the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Written by Brelby founders Shelby and Brian Maticic, with Brian playing the male lead and Shelby directing, it is another charming production from this duo with a cast comprised of many Brelby regulars. While the Maticic's script does have a few clichés and contrived situations, it also has plenty of originality and realistic characters as well as a lot of laughs.

High school sweethearts Robert and Renee have been together for 12 years. They've been through some struggles over the years, mainly around career decisions. While Robert is trying to get his YouTube-based children's musical history lesson channel some wider exposure, Renee is just about at wit's end waiting for Robert to propose. Add in Renee's best friend Ori and husband Corey; the gay couple who run the local coffee shop/bar, Davey and Matteo; and Robert's business partner Blake, who seems to be flirting with Renee a little too much, and you get a well-crafted comedy full of colorful characters.

Brian Maticic portrays Robert as your typical man boy, sort of in the way that Adam Sandler plays many of his film roles. But Maticic isn't quite as pathetic as Sandler usually is and, while he does bring a boyish charm to his portrayal, it is combined with a clear sense of understanding as well as a fair amount of comic abilities. As Renee, Melissa Kamel has to portray the one part that is fairly unhappy and frustrated throughout mot of the play. Not an easy thing to do when it's mainly a comedy, though she does manage to get across the pain and suffering fairly easy. Also, like Maticic, Kamel gets to show a few changes in the character before the play's somewhat predictable ending.

The supporting cast is quite good, with almost all of their characters providing most of the humor of the piece. With great stage presence, perfect facial expressions and fun comical abilities, Melody Chrispen is a joy as Ori. As the gay couple, Mat Vansen and David Magadan are perfect. They play off each other very well, have superb comic timing and, with Shelby Maticic's direction, never turn the roles into caricatures. They also resemble a completely realistic couple based on their interactions with each other. Jesse Taggart is fine as Corey, Ori's husband, and he and Chrispen have some fun moments together. As Blake, Jaren Navenma has the unfortunate task of playing the antagonist, but he brings an originality to the part that makes it more than a throw away role.

Shelby Maticic's direction makes the comic moments shine and the serious and romantic ones resonate. Some of the supporting cast come on a bit too strong at first, as if they have to make a great first impression in order to connect with the audience, and Maticic might want to let them know that they don't need to push so much at first. Brian Maticic also designed the set, which makes good use of the wide Brelby playing area, including some fun projections to set the scenes. Carolyn McBurney and Melissa Kamel's costume designs are hip, urban, and modern and work well with the varying characters in the piece. I hope that Brelby is able to tweak their lighting abilities a bit as, while Luke Gomez's design is fine, this is another Brelby production where anytime a character is upstage or stage left they have very little light on them.

With a clever original script and a talented bunch of actors, Brelby's 12 Days of Christmas is a fun way to spend the holidays and a nice change from the repetitive holiday chestnuts that most theatre companies continue to produce at this time of year.

The Brelby Theatre Company production of 12 Days of Christmas runs through December 20th, 2014, with performances at 6835 N 58th Avenue in Glendale. Tickets are available at or by phone at (623) 282-2781

Director: Shelby Maticic
Stage Manager: Megan O'Connor
Scenic Designer: Brian Maticic
Lighting Designer: Luke Gomez
Costume Designers: Carolyn McBurney, Melissa Kamel
Hair & Makeup Designer: Melody Chrispen
Sound Designer: Luke Gomez, David Magadan

Robert: Brian Maticic
Renee: Melissa Kamel
Ori: Melody Chrispen
Corey: Jesse Taggart
Matteo: David Magadan
Blake: Jaren Navenma

Photo: Shelby Maticic

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix

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