The first one-act is a pleasant adaptation of O. Henry's classic short story, "The Gift of the Magi." Janine Serresseque and David Winning play the married couple who face Christmas with little money to buy gifts for one another. Though their performances are a shade too earnest, Jan Guarino's accompanying narration is pitch perfect.
Guarino also provides the high point of the show (and considerable comic relief) by simultaneously playing two different shopkeepers who negotiate the deals that set up the legendary ending. But when the inevitable surprise does take place, husband and wife absorb the unfortunate coincidence with far too much equanimity.
The second play is Artistic Director Bruce Miller's adaptation of a Charles Dickens story, "The Cricket on the Hearth." Actually, it's not an adaptation of the full story but of the subplot involving Bertha (Petrina Jones), the blind daughter of a toymaker. Taking advantage of her blindness, the father fabricates a sunnier and more vivid world than the one in which she lives. In addition to brightening the colors of their home with falsehoods, he portrays their master, a petty toy merchant, as a kind benefactor. It's a fantastic story for a children's play because it deals with the meaning of truth and illusion. And Jones plays Bertha with a porcelain-doll innocence that is perfect for the role.
Dickens used this subplot as counterpoint to the main story about marital jealousy and self-deception, so it is somewhat subversive about the notion of truth. Bertha is a happier, more loving young woman because of her father's dishonesty. Using pieces of the discarded main plot, Miller fits the story with a more appropriate "message," but that only leads to confusion, wordiness and a television-sitcom ending. It's easy to imagine an adaptation that is sweeter and more theatrical than the one we see on stage.
Theatre IV's "The Gifts of Christmas" is running at the Empire Theater, 114 W. Broad St., through Dec. 22. Tickets cost $18 and can be purchased at the box office, 344-8040.
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