Brimming with the spirit of giving and the warmth of a classic romance, “The Gift of the Magi” is a magnificent, early American alternative to another seasonal fare. O. Henry’s story has captivated readers for more than a century and now the talented company at Providence Players of Fairfax is sharing their stage version ready to delight audiences of all ages.
Now playing through December 15 at the James Lee Community Theater in Falls Church, “The Gift of the Magi” is a heart-warming and wholesome event that could melt the Grinch’s cold heart and turn Scrooge into an old softy.
Jon Jory’s adaptation of O. Henry’s 1905 story is faithful to the original, which should please literary aficionados. However, the inventive Mr. Jory embellishes the story with additional characters and details which enhance the story, in my opinion. Director Beth Gilles-Whitehead has assembled a cast of actors who are up to the task to bring the time period and timeless romance to life.
‘The Gift of the Magi’ s a heart-warming and wholesome event that could melt the Grinch’s cold heart.
If you recall the original story, in New York City, around 1900, an aspiring newspaper man spies a comely young lady on a park bench and enters into a courtship with the headstrong lass. Jim – charmingly played by Alex Marshall – and Della – a spunky and fetching portrayal by Jessica Singley – take a year of walks in the park before they decide to get married.
Marshall and Singley make a picture-perfect pair, which makes their deep and playful relationship even more believable. Their marriage reminds me of the seasonal song “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” (even though that song is a few years in the future for Jim and Della). In other words, they might not have a lot of money, but their love and devotion to each other shine as bright as a Christmas star. When the couple is at their lowest point, a few years into their marriage, they figure out how to give each other a Christmas gift with only pocket change.
Despite the familiar story, the play holds the audiences’ attention, due to the two central performances, ably supported by an ensemble who help keep the scenes changed with a stylish and musical flair, singing a variety of Christmas carols as they switch the period furniture and set scenes. The music, featuring Sarah Maurer on violin, is directed with grace by Kathy White.
Another innovation by the director is to include wooden benches onstage for audience members to use during the show giving a few lucky patrons a catbird seat to the action.
Other support is offered by the affable Anand Tripathi as Jim’s best friend Digsby, and the willowy Emily-Grace Rowson as Dot, Della’s sister. Jim and Della’s neighbor Clarice is played by Lindsey Morris. Thomas Udlock makes the most of his appearance as Jim’s friend Art. As a rakish, Irish boot shopkeeper, D.S. Rawlings brogues his way into everyone’s heart, while Mandy Ellis shows humanity as a shopgirl who takes pity on Della and her financial challenge when attempting to buy her husband a gift. Rounding out the cast is Robey Manno who memorably commands the stage as a Russian grande dame, a former entertainer now running a shop that buys and sells hair – like the long, luxurious hair that cascades down from Della’s head.
Director Gilles-Whitehead’s clever staging includes effective set design by John White, with projections designed by Jason Hamrick which places the action on a New York street or the inside of a walk-up apartment in an instant. Additional period flair is added by the costume designs by Elizabeth Milam and wigs by Nicholas Horner.
Like the original story, the play ends with the couple sacrificing something valuable in order to have a special gift on Christmas day, a lesson for all in 1905 and for today. To add to the spirit of giving that permeates the play, this production is co-sponsored by the PPF and the Young Hearts, a charitable organization dedicated to improving the lives of young people affected by life-threatening illnesses.
For theatre-goers of all ages, “The Gift of the Magi” is a gift that gives a huge tug to the heart-strings and is a perfect balm for a weary world. You won’t want to miss this holiday hit.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.
“The Gift of the Magi,” produced by Providence Players of Fairfax, runs through December 15 at the James Lee Community Center Theater, 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA. For tickets call (703) 425-6782, email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.