STORY WRITTEN BY WALTER AULT/For 21st Century Media
“Gift of the Magi” is a legendary, highly popular short story by O. Henry ( a pen name for William Sydney Porter) that was adapted to the live stage and has been performed all over the world since shortly after the story’s initial publication in a New York City newspaper in 1905. It is a poignant, warmhearted and sentimental tale: a morality lesson, in a sense, about love, sacrifice and the beauty of giving, and is so appealing that it has been presented on stage as both a drama and a comedy; and as a musical, in a movie version and even as an opera.
Due to the subject matter this short — usually less than one hour — but highly dramatic and comedic work is often performed at Christmas time. Interestingly, “Gift of the Magi” will have a 10-day local run at the Dutch Country Players theater in Lower Salford this holiday season, from Dec. 5 to Dec. 14.
For this one-hour production director Cathy Zeller choose the most extravagant and dynamic of the three versions she looked at. “This is an unusually fascinating show,” Zeller said. “It isn’t exactly a musical. It’s more of a mini musical, with carolers singing throughout the production, telling the story. It is bigger and has more people (26 cast members), and with the music is more lively than other versions. I wanted it that way,” Zeller explained, “because it appeals to a mass audience. And since it is Christmas, we want the whole family to come and have a good time.”
In this compelling story a young couple, Jim Dillingham and his wife Della are dirt poor. Since Christmas is fast approaching both husband and wife are determined to somehow buy the other a present despite their financial woes. They both realize the only way to do that is through self sacrifice.
On Christmas Eve, and with only $1.87 to spend, Della begins a search to get Jim a gift. Ironically, the only thing Della possesses that is of any value is her long hair. She sells it for $20 and purchases a watch chain for Jim — whose pocket watch is his most valued possession — for $21.
Later Della is sitting at home waiting for Jim, full of anxiety about how he will react to her new appearance. As it turns out, Jim is stunned, but not because of Della’s appearance, but rather because the gift he bought for her are accessories for her hair, which she obviously no longer needs. In any case, Della gives the watch chain to Jim, explaining that she sold her hair to purchase it. In turn, Jim reveals to Della that he sold his watch to buy her gift. But rather than getting upset about receiving useless gifts, both Jim and Della find supreme satisfaction and pleasure in the realization of just how far their partner went to please them.
The lesson is obvious. It isn’t the gift, but the thought that counts, bringing to mind the true spirit and motivation of the Magi, the three wise men who brought gifts to a newborn king tucked away in a manger and in the process originated the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas.
“We feel that what we have to offer is a complete, entertaining and exciting show,” Zeller reported. “We have a strong cast, good music, including a terrific violinist, a beautiful set and a great mix of comedy and drama.
“This is simply a great story, with a lot of intrigue, a lot of emotion and a great surprise ending. I found out,” Zeller revealed, “that a lot of people don’t know the name of this play, but they know the story.”
The DCP production is an adaptation written by Jon Jory, starring Dylan Jeronis as Jim and Madison Hart as Della.