Do you remember being charmed by O. Henry’s 1906 story “The Gift of the Magi”? Perhaps you had it read to you as a child. I didn’t know that a musical version by Mark St. Germain and Randy Courts was written in the 1980’s, but thanks to Theatrical Outfit’s perfectly cast and performed version, now running through December 23, I do now.
Actually (the current version says “gifts” in the title—guess they figured O. Henry wouldn’t object) the show is an amalgam of two of his stories: “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Cop and the Anthem,” published two years before, about a bum’s effort to get himself jailed during the Christmas season. He’s called Soapy, played here with fine comic panache by Glenn Rainey. But the “Magi” story dominates the 90-minute play.
This show is a demonstration of the power of simplicity: six characters, one piano accompanist (S. Renee Clark), one legendary short story. You probably remember the young couple, Jim and Della (played here by Nick Arapoglou and Caroline Freedlund), full of love for each other but woefully short on funds (“One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all.”), as Della realizes when she counts her money to buy Jim a Christmas present. And of course Jim wishes to surprise Della with a gift.
You may recall that Jim possesses one object of some monetary value: his heirloom watch. Likewise, Della’s extraordinary long, beautiful hair is worth money. But I must say no more about Jim and Della’s gift giving because we cannot reveal the famous situational irony which ends the tale; and there are folks who have not read the story, I’m sure.
The show features three other turn of the Century figures besides Soapy: a narrator called Willy (played by the glorious-voiced Bernadine Mitchell); City Her (Adrienne Reynolds), and City Him (Jeff McKerley). All of these performances are warm and polished. This quite magnetic cast makes you feel welcome, and they seem truly delighted to be telling this story.
But it’s Della and Jim’s story, and Ms. Freedlund and Mr. Arapoglou offer the irresistible glow of innocent love; they also offer fine fine singing voices and no little dramatic power. Just so we don’t forget, they remind the audience that poverty can hurt and induce heartache. This story is not all hearts and flowers.
But the show flows seamlessly, directed by Heidi Cline McKerley. There’s not a lot of dramatic tension; after all, it’s based on a very short story and most of us know where it’s going. If you’re looking for bombast, spectacle, and guffaws, look elsewhere.
“The Gifts of the Magi” has a secret weapon: It offers the subliminal promise that love can happen to you—even during a cold, bleak holiday in the city—and that purity of heart, as William Saroyan once said, may be the one success worth having. The show is a small gem—see it.
For tickets and information, visit theatricaloutfit.org.