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Presents, tense

Contemporary Theatre Company's charming 'Gift of the Magi'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  December 4, 2013

SPIRITED Sawyer and Avigdor. [Photo by Blacknight Studios]

The Gift of the Magi, the O. Henry short story published in 1906, is as simple as a haiku: Couple sells treasures/to buy each other presents./Ain’t love ironic? Attempting to pump up the storytelling volume, local playwright Spencer Curry has written an adaptation that wrangles three couples together in an amiable little holiday play. Contemporary Theater Company is staging it (through December 22), directed by Christopher J. Simpson.

Another draft or two would help comb out the numerous snags and implausible bits forced in for plot reasons (a street busker cadging money strumming an electric guitar that’s not plugged in — wha?). The effort isn’t at all ready for prime time, but it does have its entertaining moments. They are mostly, in both writing and performance, accomplished by the whimsical narrator, called Spirit, robed in green velvet and wreathed like a front door knocker. Sami Avigdor does a great job establishing the character, making him nervously self-conscious but also as endearing as a handmade Christmas card from a kid. A cute touch has him clicking a TV remote control to freeze the action while he comments or explains.

Declaring himself to be the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future, Spirit tells us that we don’t have to believe in anything special in order to get something out of this story, which is taking place on Christmas Eve. The first couple sees him on the street as just some harmless, weirdly dressed dude. They have enough else to distract them. Billy (Charlie Santos) is the guy with the useless guitar. His girlfriend Vera (Brynne Sawyer) wants to dance ,but doesn’t have tap shoes — which, when you think about it, shouldn’t really impede her anymore than a singer without a microphone.

Next we meet the lesbian couple Ebigail (Christine Cauchon) and Bailey (Amelia Giles). They are proprietors of a new odds-and-ends shop called Doe a Dear, whose expenses have them strapped for cash for presents. A more serious problem soon crops up — they receive a cease-and-desist order stating that the name of their store is a copyright infringement.

The last couple is the elderly Jim and Della Young (Terry Simpson and Valerie Tarantino), married 37 years. They are down to their last $10.07 for the month after paying for their son, whom we never end up seeing, to fly in for a visit. If you recognize the names as the couple in the classic short story, you deserve a big prize that you can take a minute and order from Amazon right now. The original exchange was that he sold his gold watch to buy her fancy accessories for her beautiful waist-length hair, and she sold her hair for a gold watch chain. If this sort of thing has been a tradition with them, you’d think they would have both run out of personal possessions a long time ago. Nevertheless, the latest confusion (when will they ever learn?) involves him selling his watch to buy her a fancy dress for the opera and her selling their opera tickets for a chain for his watch.

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