'Gift of the Magi' is timeless tale of love, sacrifice
With holiday shopping season in full swing, we can all benefit from taking a break to think about the true meaning of gift giving. The Performance Network's new adaptation of "The Gift of the Magi" might be the perfect sanctuary from the clogged department store checkout lanes.
Based on O. Henry's classic short story, "The Gift of the Magi" concerns a hardworking newlywed couple who struggle to buy the perfect gifts for each other on Christmas Eve. It's a quaint, funny tale of love and sacrifice, and it culminates in one of O. Henry's most famous literary twists.
Director Suzi Regan talked with The Detroit News about the challenges of adapting the short story into a full-length play and what it takes to give someone you love the perfect gift.
Q: Is this a straight adaptation, or have you played around with the setting and characters?
A: We've kind of retold the story, because of a lot of people haven't heard it before. We retell the story pretty true to what O. Henry has written, and then we visit variations on the theme. We go to the 1940s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and then we end up here in 2014. We talk about gifts of all shapes and sizes.
Little memories are thrown throughout the script: sitting around the Hanukkah bush, the Christmas tree, whatever family traditions people may remember. We've got something for everybody in this kind of tied-up-with-a-bow holiday story.
Q: Do you think this story has special significance now that we're still reeling from the recession?
A: It's not something we talked about, but we all talk about the motivation for the gift giving and the materialism and how out of control it is, and how you hear Christmas music the day after Halloween. We talk about this in acting, too: what it costs, not monetarily, but what it costs to really know somebody well enough to give them something that could only be from you.
We visit people who aren't feeling well. We call our grandparents because we want them to feel loved even though we want to run out with our friends. We do the simple things that don't cost any money to remind people of their value. I think we didn't even talk about the recession, though that's kind of the new normal for many of us. It's kind of a part of the fabric.
What we don't have monetarily, we do have in heart. Maybe that is from where it came, but unknowingly. That's a really good question.
Q: This story has been reinterpreted many times over the last century. What makes it such an enduring holiday classic?
A: There's an innocence about the couple in O. Henry's story that I think is so glaringly apparent when you read it. It just harkens back to a simpler time. Christmas is such a hard, busy time for families, and then if there are financial troubles it's especially hard. Everybody's so busy, it feels as though when we take time to breathe and listen and really know what our partners, family members, friends are saying, we really know what it is we can give them. It's a simple innocence that I think people are longing for to see and to experience.
Q: Is there anything else you want the audience to know before coming out to see the play?
A: It is a family friendly show. We hope to have a lot of fun during the performances as well with the audience members. There will be some audience interaction. We're hoping to cultivate a new theater-going audience as a result of it. We want to get families in there and maybe make the Network a holiday tradition.
'The Gift of the Magi'
8 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Performance Network Theatre
120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor