EDMONDS — Phoenix Theatre found a surprise holiday hit last year in “Twist of the Magi.”
The farce, based on O. Henry’s short story “Gift of the Magi,” was by far the most popular offering at the Edmonds comedy theater. So the show is back on stage for a second year in a row.
“It was one of the most popular shows they’ve ever had there,” Director Shileah Corey said. “It was nearly sold out, if not completely sold out last year. Since audiences loved it so much, they decided to reprise it this year.”
“Gift of the Magi,” written in 1905, tells of a young couple, Della and Jim, who are short on money but desperately want to buy each other Christmas gifts. The story’s premise has been retold and parodied countless times.
Della secretly sells her most valuable possession, her hair, to buy a platinum chain for her husband’s watch, while Jim, also in secret, sells his most valuable possession, his watch, to buy jewelled combs for his wife’s hair. The irony is both of their gifts are now useless.
Debra Rich Gettleman, the theater’s former managing director, wrote this parody in 2014. It is set in a 1940s radio studio and is performed as an on-air broadcast.
Gettleman adds a host of broadcasting eccentrics to the classic story, including an Andrews Sisters-like trio called the Twisted Sisters, who sing Christmas carols and parody ’40s commercials.
“It’s such a classic Christmas tale, and it represents something much bigger than just Christmas,” Gettleman said. “It’s about undying love, it’s about appreciation and it’s about the irony of giving things up for someone you love. I love the message of the story. I’ve always loved it — since I was a little kid.
“But then I like to write a screwball farce, so I (asked myself), ‘OK, how am I going to mess this up?’ ”
The “Twist of the Magi” is a play within a play. Kylara Pankow and James Lynch portray classic characters Della and Jim on the radio show, but they’re also playing “real-life” couple Lauren and Freddie off the air.
“In ‘real life,’ there’s a man and a woman whose lives are mirroring what’s happening in the radio play,” Corey said. “It’s a cute story with a twist at the end that’s really, really fun.”
O. Henry’s stories are known for their plot-twist endings, and this farcical comedy also sports some twists and turns.
In true Phoenix fashion — it’s a comedy-only theater, after all — Gettleman’s Della, tortured by seller’s remorse after chopping off her hair, tries to recover her lost locks.
Whether you travel back in time to the 1900s or 1940s, both stories leave you with the happy realization that it’s the thought behind the gift that counts.
And, along with that heartfelt message, expect to laugh. As a playwright, Gettleman likes her audiences to leave happier than they were when they got there.
The funniest character of them all, according to Gettleman, is the sound technician, Betsey, played by Melanie Calderwood, who is the theater’s artistic director.
“The best part is we have the sound effects lady on stage the whole show, and she’s a bumbling mess of a character,” Gettleman said. “She’s always dropping things and playing the wrong sound effect. She is laugh-out-loud funny.”
If you go
What: Phoenix Theatre’s “Twist of the Magi”
When: Through Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, with Saturday matinees Dec. 15 and Dec. 22
Where: The Phoenix Theatre, 9673 Firdale Ave., Edmonds
Tickets: $25 adults; $20 seniors, students and military; $12 children
More: 206-533-2000 or www.tptedmonds.org
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