“Post Christmas” is how the Mutual Audio Network describes its January offering of a dramatized version of O. Henry’s classic Christmas tale, “The Gift of the Magi.” This story is a very familiar staple of American literature. A young couple of very modest means in circa 1905 New York City, Della and James Dillingham Young, aspire to give significant Christmas presents to each other. What sacrifices are they willing to make to accomplish this?
…the warmth of Christmas festivities and traditions which the two productions evoke lovingly and convincingly.
This familiar tale is dramatized for audio with aplomb, with Jeffrey Billard and Tanja Milojevic who are very good in their roles as the financially-strapped but loving couple. Producer Jack Ward, founder of the Mutual Audio Network and of a series of Christmas tales called “Christmas Wreath Anthology,” desired to adapt this O. Henry story—filled with description in its original literary form—to work well as an audio drama. To do so, Mr. Ward has expanded the role of one character in the story, Madam Lucyna Sofronie, now owner of a wig shop, and added one character, Mr. Kent Wilkins, who repairs clocks. These two interesting individuals, presumably in middle age, are performed adroitly by David Ault and Erika Sanderson as they help us reflect on the nature of young love, family relationships, and, of course, how the young couple’s gift exchange might play out at Christmastime. O. Henry was a master of the surprise ending, and this version has the famous short story author’s dénouement. While this portion of the ending is retained from O. Henry, the audio drama concludes not with the master storyteller’s ruminations about the meaning of gifts and the original Magi from the nativity narrative in Scripture, but rather on the budding romance between Madam Safronie and Mr. Wilkens, a bold but interesting change of focus.
O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is an extremely well-known Christmas tale—there is even a Disney cartoon adaptation, with Mickey and Minnie Mouse standing in as the young couple. The same level of fame cannot be claimed for “Three Christmas Trees“ by Juliana Horatia Ewing, another tale newly premiering on the Mutual Audio Network. This one is produced and directed by Jason Markiewitz who decided on a very different approach than the Jack Ward “Magi.” Instead of adding scenes and characters to make this a radio-style audio drama, he embraces the narrative of the original 1800s English short story, using voice actors mainly to highlight key portions of the story. The performance combines elements of both audio book and audio drama, perhaps slightly favoring the former.
The story follows the perspective of a person reaching the end of his earthly life, reflecting on how three Christmas trees have shaped his experience of Christmas, both as a child and as an adult. This is an interesting and unusual production of a Christmas-tide story which, in the opinion of this reviewer, should be better known. Mr. Markiewitz, who also serves as the congenial narrator, uses sound choices—especially some magnificent Christmas carolers (Sharon Grunwald, Lessa Nosko, and Kyle Wright) to help render this story from the past more accessible to audiences of today. Such is the case with his choice of a Christmas carol which is sung in two of the three vignettes, “While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks By Night”—a hymn which is used in the production movingly to bind the Christmas of the protagonist’s youth to the Christmas of his old age.
Both “The Gift of the Magi” and “Three Christmas Trees” are well worth a listen, even in this “post-Christmas” season. They are reminders that we might return to the holiday spirit and once again bask in the warmth of Christmas festivities and traditions which the two productions evoke lovingly and convincingly.
Running time: Each production runs 30 minutes.