Backstage: The Gift of the Magi

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(Host) A newly formed theater company in Barre brings a classic O. Henry short story to the stage this weekend. VPR’s Neal Charnoff went “Backstage” with the Picket Fence Theater Company’s production of “The Gift of the Magi.”

(Charnoff) Jim and Della are a poor newlywed couple living in turn-of-the-century New York City. Despite economic hardship, they’re happy to be spending their first Christmas together.

“Tomorrow is Christmas, for tomorrow is Christmas Day…”

(Charnoff) Soon, though, the stress of the holidays takes its toll on the young couple, as they fantasize about what they could buy for each other, “if they had money:”

In a classic O. Henry twist, Della ends up selling her hair to buy Jim a chain for his favorite possession, a watch that belonged to his father. Meanwhile, Jim has sold the watch to buy Della combs for her hair. He arrives home the night before Christmas, and the couple has their first argument.

“When I tell him why I cut it…”

(Charnoff) The Gift of the Magi was adapted for the stage by Peter Ekstrom. Ekstrom wrote the adaptation for the Actor’s Theater of Louisville, where it has been performed every year for the past 17 years.

The director for this production is Jane Hosford of Plainfield. She says it’s easy to see why The Gift of the Magi has connected so well with holiday audiences of all ages.

(Hosford) “O. Henry chose that particular title for this show because the Three Kings were the original givers of the first Christmas gifts. And those gifts were given not for monetary reasons, but they were given from the heart. And his analogy is that these are the Magi, these two poor people in New York City, that didn’t have anything, gave gifts from the heart.”

(Charnoff) Della is played by Jessica Voyer of Essex Junction. She feels that the problems faced by a young couple in 1905 are no different than those in contemporary society.

(Voyer) “Well it definitely talks about our bond with material items. And it’s just so sweet to see a couple so in love, and it doesn’t really matter that they have anything except each other.”

(Charnoff) Charlie Cerutti of Montpelier plays Jim. He says the message the play has to offer goes beyond any one spiritual denomination.

(Cerutti) “I think it’s really meant to talk to everybody, because it’s the famous O Henry story about giving up what you love most for the one that you love or the people that you care for. And that’s what its all about, that’s what Christmas is all about, is giving. And it reminds us all that that really is the most important part, that as long as we’re together I don’t need these items. I could give that up to be able to give you something or care for you more.”

For VPR Backstage, I’m Charnoff Charnoff.

(Music ends, “Tomorrow is Christmas Day…”)

(Host) The Gift of the Magi will be performed Friday through Sunday at the Barre Opera House, as part of a program that also includes caroling and music from the Monteverdi Girl’s Choir. In the spirit of the season, the performances will benefit the Good Samaritan Haven, a homeless shelter in Barre.

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