When’s the last time you’ve made a choice when sitting in a theater audience? Other than deciding what snacks to buy or which show to see — chances are, the choices you make don’t impact the play you see. You get to see the same locations, the actors say the same lines, and you see pretty much the same thing as the people you entered with.
Michelle Murray Wells’ and the creative team for Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio’s adaptation of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi not only provides an hour-long dip into the world of the Roaring Twenties, but it also gives its audience members the opportunity to make a choice: follow one character out of the room or stay in the room and see what happens. Even though the outcomes ultimately converge, by adding a choice, The Gift of the Magi creates a unique and varied experience for each and every audience member who sees it.
In addition to the major choice in what narrative to follow, made midway through the hour-long experience, there are dozens of other characters to learn from. Starting out in a speakeasy, with $3 drink tokens you can buy at the box office, you can interact with all manner of flappers such as Emily Johns and Rebecca Jones and bartenders such as Brian Thacker and Thom Haynes. You can listen to a live jazz band, containing singer AC Donohue, as you sip both mixed sangria cocktails and “mocktails” (non-alcoholic mixed drinks).
As you enter the world of the play, you can talk to Karen Williams, the village wigmaker, Houston Horn, the down-on-his-luck caroler, and villager Doug Kapp. It’s almost reminiscent of an interesting choice-based video game. Going through the village and the speakeasy, you can talk to characters about what they do, cycle through interesting pieces of dialogue, and learn more about the world of the play. There are even arts and crafts available in the village, if you’re looking for a side-quest.
The biggest treat of Sonorous Road’s version of The Gift of the Magi is the intense and touching glimpse into the relationship between Michelle Murray Wells as Della and Jonathan King as Jim. Crammed with them in their tiny apartment, made even smaller by all the audience members in there with them, you get an intimate look at their relationship. In addition, performances of Matthew Tucker as Rudy, Gus Allen as Jacob, and Kimmy Fiorentino help flesh out the world of the story and provide context to the couple’s relationship.
In terms of tech, by far my favorite part of the show is how well-transformed the whole space was. Taking you through back curtains, into both the studio theater, main theater, and former office — Anthony Buckner and Ben Whitley utilize Sonorous Road’s space in an unprecedented way. Backstage becomes the dirty city streets, the office becomes Jim and Della’s tiny apartment, and the mainstage becomes the quaint village. The speakeasy, bathed in purple and blue, is perfectly sultry and comfortable; the village felt cool and welcoming; and Della and Jim’s apartment had the intimacy that it needed.
From the hanging chandeliers to the window units, the car parked in the village to the always playing radio in their apartment — the Sonorous Road theater team created an amazing and immersive environment worthy of O. Henry’s original story. In addition, the period costuming made the actors look great and really solidified the feel of the era.
That being said, as much joy as the snow machine brought me, the night that I saw the show, the snow was pretty uneven and took me out of the story a little bit. In addition, some of the wigs onstage felt very unrealistic and cheapened some of the good costume work that was done. Of course, because the show is so intimate, the snow machine being so close and the actors being so close, it’s much easier to notice too much snow covering actors or the particular way wigs shine or look unnatural under stage light.
Overall, Sonorous Road’s choice based The Gift of the Magi is the most immersive and creative play that you will see this holiday season. From the moment that you step into the speakeasy, your choices determine what type of show you will see. Every single member of the ensemble helps you escape into the Roaring Twenties and this unforgettable and poignant holiday tale. No matter who you choose to follow, seeing this new work is the right choice, especially if you love the time period. So, go ahead, go to the speakeasy, but don’t forget to ask for the password.
NOTE: There are only 16 seats available for each performance of this immersive theatrical experience whose runtime is approximately one hour. The scenes take place throughout the theater building, and there will be approximately 45 minutes of standing or walking.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-gift-of-the-magi/Event?oid=9955054; and Dec. 3rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article187836959.html.
Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio presents THE GIFT OF THE MAGI: A 1920s-Themed Holiday Show at 8, 9, and 10 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16; 3, 4, and 5 p.m. Dec. 17; and 8, 9, and 10 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23 in The Royal Bakery Building, 3801 Hillsborough St., Suite 113, Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or https://www.sonorousroad.com/tickets/.
INFORMATION: 919-803-3798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: https://www.sonorousroad.com/gift-of-the-magi/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/483855508668467/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: https://www.sonorousroad.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad/, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
The Gift of the Magi (1905 short story): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gift_of_the_Magi (Wikipedia).
The Story: https://americanenglish.state.gov/files/ae/resource_files/1-the_gift_of_the_magi_0.pdf (American English).
Study Guide: http://edsitement.neh.gov/launchpad-o-henrys-gift-magi (EDSITEment! by the National Endowment for the Humanities).
O. Henry (Greensboro, NC-born short-story writer, nee William Sydney Porter, 1862-1910): https://www.britannica.com/biography/O-Henry (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://www.austintexas.gov/department/o-henry-museum (O. Henry Museum), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O._Henry (Wikipedia).
Michelle Murray Wells (adapter): https://www.michellemurraywells.com/ (official website), https://www.sonorousroad.com/staff/ (Sonorous Road bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm8678173/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/michelle.m.wells.9 (Facebook page).
Katy Koop is a writer, comedic actor, and stage manager based in Cary, NC. As a freelance writer, her work has been published by Later, Femsplain, and Hello Giggles. When she’s not writing or involved in a local production, she’s tweeting under the handle @katykooped. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.