A gold watch chain and a woman’s crowning glory are at the center of a classic tale being told anew by Heartland Theatre Company.
The company is taking to the airwaves with a new radio adaptation of a classic holiday tale. Inspired by the work of O. Henry, the production takes a fresh approach to the well-known story, while remaining true to its heartfelt message.
“The Gift of the Magi” will be simulcast at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, on WGLT and WCBU. It's part of the WCBU & WGLT Presents series.
The story concerns James and Della, a young couple who grapple with the challenges of secretly buying each other a Christmas present, despite their poverty. Both are prepared to make a great sacrifice for the happiness of their spouse.
This is a brand-new adaptation of “The Gift of the Magi,” said Sandra Zielinski, director of the radio play. Written by Bob Cooner, the play stays true to O. Henry’s original tale of love and sacrifice during the holiday season, while expanding the scope and adding new details.
“What Bob Cooner did was take all of the characters that James and Della would have met and brought them into the story,” said Zielinski, with O. Henry’s short story told from the point of view of a narrator.
Cooner’s character additions brings a new richness to the classic tale, said Zielinski.
“O. Henry’s narrator is looking at both of the characters and commenting on what they’re doing," she said. "In the text, James and Della have one conversation that we read and that’s at the giving of the gifts. Only one other person is included and that’s the woman who cuts Della’s hair. Those are the only three characters that O. Henry gives language to.”
In Cooner’s script, character gaps are filled in with an array of people, Zielinski explained.
“So, it’s really very interesting. He takes a broader view of the story, whereas O. Henry focuses very tight on Della’s hair and the watch fob. I think Bob has done a great job with filling out their life so that we see it in a different way.”
“The Gift of the Magi” is a good fit for the medium of radio, noted Zielinski. Although the company is still in rehearsals, the story and characters are easily taking root and blossoming in their mind’s eye.
“It really brings this story to life. It’s very easy to do over the radio," she said. "We don’t have a third person; nobody is telling the tale. They are living the tale. Our stage manager, Gail Dobbins, sees it on the stage! She’s already costumed them in her mind.”
Due to pandemic restrictions, the cast of “The Gift of the Magi” are rehearsing over Zoom. Zielinski revealed she has developed a particular habit to make sure that the actors best utilize the radio medium.
“In directing, I don’t look at the Zoom picture because the face tells us so much. The voice has to do that for the actors. And so, I don’t look at them when I’m listening to them. That’s how you do it. Because if you look at them, you think that they are doing what you see, but maybe they aren’t vocally. So, it’s an interesting process.”
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