Thursday, December 06, 2007

An O'Henry Christmas - Review

"The poorer you are the more Christmas does for you."
- O.P.

The little stage in Lansdowne's 20th Century Club is intimate; a theater in the round, and all of us gather 'round a cluster of crates and a barrel lit within with faux fire. But the real warmth comes from the characters that soon appear; Marguerite, Agnes, Fran, Grover, Hal, Dinty, Guido the cop, and finally, the master storyteller - O.P. In their rags and wrinkled suits, they are the poor, and it's Christmas Eve, and this is where they'll hold their vigil. It's Howard Burman's play, "An O. Henry Christmas," playing this weekend and next in Lansdowne, PA (details following).

On a railroad spur, on the tattered fringes of New York City, 1893, a group of homeless souls carrying nothing but their own mental baggage, have clustered about this fire seeking its heat for their bodies and, perhaps subconsciously, some warmth for their souls. Suddenly, a stranger appears. In an exchange for food, "O.P." offers to entertain with a series of cryptic yet charming tales, each taking flesh in the characters gathered about the fire. The stories are some classic gems of author O. Henry, including "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi." Grace pours out in the telling, and somehow by the end of that cold night, a new fire burns in each person's heart.
The actors are well cast, the laughs come steadily, and yet surrounding it all, and in fact in the middle of it all, burns a powerful message. It's voiced in the words of O.P. and then made flesh in the character of Marguerite. O.P. whispers to Dinty, the cynical, literally "starving" artist who sees nothing but misery in life, "You've got a choice you know. You can choose to see the flower or the manure in which it's growing."

This philosophy, these hopeful stories, these little acts of kindness performed by the homeless players (more and more willingly as the night goes on!), are taken in all the while like a slow and steady drip from a heavenly IV into the dying veins of Marguerite. She is a woman of the streets, who now lies quietly on an old mattress, dying a slow death of her own choosing. We meet her early on, but she, like us, is a silent witness, for the most part, to the events of the night. She has lost the will to live and has projected her very last hours onto an old dying vine. With every veined leaf that falls, more life seeps from her own. We watch as the tales of O.P. and the enthusiasm of her friends try valiantly to cut the webs of her melancholy like swords. But this play holds a two-edged sword, and we are soberly reminded that real love comes at a price.

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An O'Henry Christmas" opens at Celebration Theater on November 30th. Jack Roe as "O.P" spins a tale to down-and-out travelers Amanda Williamson and Rebecca Donaghy in Celebration Theater's "An O'Henry Christmas".

The show runs through December 16 in Lansdowne at the 20th Century Club on 84 S. Lansdowne Avenue.

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