Opening a Christmas play the first weekend of November may sound like a case of jumping the gun, being a little too quick on the draw, or some other totally inappropriate and irrelevant firearm metaphor.
But Lauren Nichols, one of the founding members of the faith-based theater company All For One, says the timing of her troupe’s production of An O. Henry Christmas may be near perfect.
Nichols says An O. Henry Christmas comes at a time when people are not yet buried in an avalanche of Christmas options and obligations.
I honestly assume that’s why the Civic (Theatre) is also opening its production of A Christmas Story’ this weekend, she says, because we can’t imagine shoehorning anything else into December.
Howard Burman’s An O. Henry Christmas, which will probably strike most Christmas-steeped readers as refreshingly unfamiliar, is both an anthology of the great author’s work and a loose biography.
The play is about a group of homeless people who are approached on Christmas Eve in 1893 by a stranger. He asks for broth and companionship in exchange for storytelling.
The dire straits in which the characters find themselves are the result of a really bad economic year, Nichols says.
And, boy, does that sound familiar today, she says.
This is a very satisfying play for the actors to do, Nichols says, because they get to play the characters in the stranger’s stories, as well as the characters who hear the stranger’s stories.
Props do double and triple duty as they are repurposed from one play-within-a-play to the next, Nichols says.
Nichols says An O. Henry Christmas is ostensibly a secular work, but its underlying message, sacrificial giving motivated by love, is well-suited to the company’s mission.
It’s a lovely play, she says. It’s got a lot of humor in it and it’s poignant.
O. Henry, whose work used to be required reading in English classes, may be getting lost, Nichols says.
When I was young, he was anthologized, she says. Today, young people haven’t heard of him. You say, Oh Henry’ and they say, The candy bar?’
Nichols believes O. Henry is ripe for a renaissance. He was a good student of human nature. He wrote well-crafted, tightly written little stories.