Hang on, Snoopy

Good grief! Happiness is Charlie Brown at Theatre Three; Patsy Cline and Magi are magical, too.

The script really is terrible, but the music is dandy in A Closer Walk (big snaps to the tight five-piece combo led by Mark Mullino). All of Cline's hits are here: "Walkin' After Midnight," "Faded Love," "Lovesick Blues," "Always," "Leavin' on Your Mind," "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and the unforgettable "Crazy" (the hit that launched Willie Nelson as a songwriter). Song after song, Thurman's voice is as sweet and warm as a shot of good bourbon. This woman can sing a bunch. But it sure would be nice to hear what she could do as herself for a change and not just as somebody's Patsy.

Audience response has been so positive for The Gift of the Magi, Classical Acting Company's elegant production of the O. Henry story, that the run at Richland College's Arena Theater has been extended through Christmas Eve. Reason enough to offer a few more words about a nearly flawless production of the best story ever written capturing the true spirit of giving at Christmas.

Dallas actor-writer Lee Trull has cleverly woven two O. Henry stories into the one-act play. The Gift of the Magi and Compliments of the Season brim with the ironic humor O. Henry was famous for, with delicate touches of mystery and sadness.

Charlie Brown: a good play and a good musical, with Brian Gonzales, center, in the lead role
Charlie Brown: a good play and a good musical, with Brian Gonzales, center, in the lead role

Jim (Steven Walters) and Della (Elise Reynard) play the young married couple so broke that they promise not to buy gifts for each other. It is December 1907, and Jim, a writer making $20 a week, keeps fragile Della's spirits up by telling her his fanciful new story about a millionaire's child who loses her favorite doll, and the three downtown toughs who find it and attempt to cash in on the reward. Della glows and giggles as Jim acts out Compliments of the Season (assisted by Emily Gray, showing great facility for accents as she plays several characters in the story-within-the-story). Poor as Job's turkey, Jim and Della own one great asset: their love. Which is why Della sets out with her meager savings to get Jim the perfect Christmas present. The sacrifice each makes to be kind to the other makes for a classic heartbreaker ending.

Directed by Matthew Gray, The Gift of the Magi keeps it all blessedly simple, never letting sentiment spill over into melodrama. The set by Jennifer Owen is stark and uncluttered. Costumes by Traci Kaplan evoke a shabby beauty. When the mellow strains of a cello (played by Dr. David Fray) waft into Jim and Della's sparsely furnished apartment and they glide into a slow waltz across their threadbare carpet, it's an aaaaah moment.

Everything about this production casts a spell. It's impossible not to get swept into the soulful message of, as O. Henry put it, "the Christmas part of the thing."

Cash Della has for Jim's gift: $1.87.

Ticket to this play: $17.

Feeling the real spirit of the season: priceless.

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