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The Gift of the Magi 2.0

a Holiday Comedy/Drama
by N. Emil Thomas

COMPANY : Actors Theatre of Atlanta [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 5182

SHOWING : November 16, 2017 - December 03, 2017



O. Henry’s holiday classic "Gift of the Magi," setting the tale in Atlanta in the 1950’s. This adaptation centers around a local streetcar driver who’s struggling to stay afloat during the Atlanta Transit strike. Christmas is around the corner and the young man and his wife don’t have the money to buy each other gifts. Despite their financial hardships, they find a way to celebrate. Magi tells the story of love, sacrifice and the blessings that we take for granted. Treat the entire family to this treasured holiday play; kids will also enjoy pre-show snacks, crafts and holiday characters.

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Close Enough
by playgoer
Friday, November 17, 2017
N. Emil Thomas’ "The Gift of the Magi 2.0" expands O. Henry’s short story and sets it following the Atlanta transit strike of 1950. In order to support this expansion, it invents the characters of Robert Harvey (N. Emil Thomas), the proprietor of a vintage jewelry store, and his wife Millie Harvey (Karnia Lake), whose beauty salon advertises that it buys hair. It also concludes the story with Jim (Dee Jordan) and Della Dillingham (Noelle Strong) being rewarded monetarily for the sacrifices they have made for one another. To stretch the show to two acts, we are also shown vintage television commercials and listen to the females sing a couple of holiday songs in character. It all works remarkably well.

The set by director/playwright/actor N. Emil Thomas takes pains to duplicate a 1950 feeling. The Dillingham kitchen at stage right contains a vintage stove and features an old-fashioned ironing board and flatiron. The Harvey living room at stage left contains a lovely antique mantle and chic décor. Upstage in the center a three-sided platform can be rotated to show a projection screen, the Harvey jewelry store, or Millie’s beauty salon. Downstage center the stage is painted with multi-colored rectangles that act as a counterpart to the brick walls of the Dillingham residence. It’s a very nice set that works well to support the action, and Mr. Thomas’ lighting design deftly illuminates the portions of the stage on which action is taking place.

There are some visual elements, however, that break the illusion of 1950, such as the hairstyles of Mr. Thomas and Ms. Lake and a Corning Ware dish (first introduced in 1958, with a design probably from the 70’s). More anachronisms occur in Kathryn Allen’s sound design. Many of the holiday recordings played are of songs written after 1950, and not necessarily in their original arrangements. Some are close enough to give a period feel (such as 1951’s "Silver Bells" and 1953’s "Santa Baby"), but there is one dance tune that seems wildly out of period, and Ms. Strong’s rendition of "Mary, Did You Know?," while lovely, is of a song from 1991. Sound quality sometimes is poor, particularly in an early faux radio broadcast, and the television video is obviously being streamed on a computer, complete with navigation bars and lag indicators.

Direction by N. Emil Thomas and Cydnei Prather gets the story across, although there is one mime scene between Harvey and Jim that seems baffling on first view. Jim, a streetcar driver, appears to be trying a starter switch, opening an engine compartment, and twisting wires together. The dialogue that follows suggests that there was a traffic jam. Other slightly off elements stem from the script, with the chance meeting between wealthy Millie and laundress Della somewhat unbelievably leading to a dinner invitation, and with the relationship between Jim and Harvey veering from contentious to harmonious with little transition. Still, give the directors credit for telling the story in an innovative way.

Acting is adequate all around, with Ms. Strong giving perhaps the most assured performance. The storyline nicely intertwines the stories of the Dillinghams and Harveys, and holiday spirit imbues the whole production. You could do far worse than attending "The Gift of the Magi 2.0" to get into the holiday spirit. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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