First drawn to the short stories of O. Henry during his English class at Painesville’s Riverside High School, playwright Peter Ekstrom found the perfect subject for a musical in Henry’s classic story “The Gift of the Magi.”
“I love his stories and their surprise endings,” says Ekstrom, whose version of the holiday tale is staged by Theatre in the Circle Dec. 6 through 9. “I try to use that same device in writing songs.”
Ekstrom’s two-character, one-act adaptation stays true to the spirit of Henry’s story of a financially struggling couple searching for perfect Christmas gifts for each other, including its classic ironic conclusion. Written in 1981, his adaptation ran for 17 consecutive years as a holiday favorite at the Actors Theatre of Louisville.
The cash-strapped couple’s selfless love story is scored by an intimate quartet of piano, harp, cello and flute. “The music adds a different color to the show,” says Eckstrom, who is attending each performance. “It represents their deep longing. But there’s a lot of fun in it as well.”
As the only American resident-driven professional theater company in a retirement community, Theatre in the Circle’s production has some extra sonic innovations. In the company’s Judson Manor location, the ballroom is equipped with hearing loop technology that streams audio directly into hearing aids equipped with telecoil.
“Judson attracts people who want to live in this cultural nexus of the city,” says co-founder Bill Corcoran, who started the theater with his partner, Mark. “Most of our residents have been going to see theater all their lives.”
For fans of theater — and “The Gift of the Magi” — that’s a gift in itself.
“To me, this story is the idealization of what true love is,” says Ekstrom. “This is a fable about kids blinded by love and their unselfish giving. It’s a story we all need to re-learn … or learn for the first time.” theatreinthecircle.com