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'An O. Henry Christmas' looks at the homeless

by jmaloni
Thu, Dec 5th 2013 05:50 pm
`An O. Henry Christmas` (photo by Larry Austin)
"An O. Henry Christmas" (photo by Larry Austin)
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by Susan Mikula Campbell

It's become a Christmas tradition for my sister Teenie and I to go to Theatre in the Mist's annual holiday show. We always leave filled with holiday spirit and ready to kickoff our own Christmas preparations.

This year's Theatre in the Mist holiday production of "An O. Henry Christmas" at the Stella Niagara stage in Lewiston is definitely different.

"It wasn't all holly jolly Christmas, but I loved every minute of it," Teenie commented after the show, adding that she was shocked that Jerry Mosey of Lewiston, whom she has seen in other productions, could play such a realistic crabby old man.

"An O. Henry Christmas" takes us to a group of six homeless people gathered around a fire who have only a watery broth with which to toast the holiday. One woman in a nearby makeshift bed has convinced herself that she is dying, but she is not the one character who does die at the end. The quiet doctor (played by John Jacoby of Lewiston) will only say she has to want to live. They all have different backgrounds, from streetwalker to college graduate. They have built, if not an affection, a belonging together.

Enter two outsiders. Mark Gravel of Wheatfield is the blustery, threatening policeman, who ultimately proves he does have some heart.

The other is a shivering man who identifies himself as O.P. and keeps hiding whenever the policeman enters. In exchange for some broth and a place by the fire, O.P. casts the ragtag group as actors in three O. Henry stories: "The Thousand Dollars," "Two Christmas Day Gentlemen," and ultimately, "The Gift of the Magi."

The uneducated, but streetwise Fran (played by Molly Harding of North Tonawanda) throws herself enthusiastically into O.P.'s plans, taking a part in each of the three short stories.

After the performance, Mosey, a former English professor and longtime fan of the irony-laced writing of O. Henry, aka William Sydney Porter, told us that the character of O.P. contains some true to life connections to the author. Porter really did spend time in Ohio Penitentiary for embezzlement, did visit New York City and was a southerner, born in North Carolina.

I agreed with my sister that the play was well worth attending. It was opening night when we went. At first they struggled with opening night jitters playing as individuals, not a cohesive cast, but they soon noticeably came together and the Christmas magic began. Jack Agugliaro's easy drawl as O.P. helped make us understand the spirit of giving, not only to, but by the poor.

Performances will continue through this weekend: Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m.

Ticket prices are: Adults $15; students/seniors (62-plus) $13; children (12 and under) $7.

For more information, visit www.theatreinthemist.org or call toll free 1-877-856-0694.

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