Dec. 16, 2017 — ‘Tis the season to be jolly — to laugh, sing, and dance in the expectations of Christmas present and the memories of Christmas past. Florence has been doing its part with the hilarious Holly Jolly Follies’ “Totally Twisted Tinsel,” Ballet Fantastique’s innovative dance adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” and the swinging harmony of the Emerald City Jazz Kings’ Old-Fashioned Christmas.
This weekend, Dec. 16 and 17, Class Act Theatre (CAT) takes us on a sleigh ride back to the 1930s, an economically depressing decade between the Roaring 20s and World War II. CAT presents “A Christmas Memory,” a charming, poignant story that embraces the meaning of the yuletide season.
Directed with affection by Leah Goodwin, “A Christmas Memory” is an autobiographical story by Truman Capote reflecting his memories growing up in rural Alabama. This gentle story comes as a surprise from the author of “In Cold Blood” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” although it comes closest to revealing his heart and soul.
“A Christmas Memory” is the recollection of Buddy, sent to live with an aging cousin of 60-some years, her dog Queenie, and a houseful of irritating voices. Buddy and Sook, as she is called, have lots to do to prepare for Christmas-baking 30 fruitcakes for acquaintances and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, choosing a Christmas tree and making ornaments and presents.
It’s a delightful tale of a loving relationship of equals. It’s an absorbing story that quiets the spirit, a respite from the holiday hustle and bustle.
Even if you don’t like fruitcake, you’ll relish the interplay between Buddy and Sook as performed by the Modern Major General and opera diva Maria Callas.
Wait a minute. Did the sleigh take a wrong turn?
Relax. Florence’s many fine actors play many parts. Two of the finest have changed costumes and characters for “A Christmas Memory.” Jim Wellington, the fast-talking Modern Major General from the Last Resort Players’ “Pirates of Penzance” (2016), assumes the role of the adult Buddy, the story’s narrator, and the 70-year-old Buddy, the story’s participant.
Annie Schmidt, who as Maria Callas devastated opera students in the LRP’s “Master Class” (2017), transforms into a poor, unsophisticated, resourceful country woman.
Wellington’s Buddy carries loose pages which he consults often, as if he’s writing his memoirs, and Schmidt is endearing with fewer lines and many actions. She’s a puppet character grown-up Buddy is recreating. His memories and his reflections of those memories overlap like waves on an ocean of diamonds.
Capote’s words are graceful, elegant and uncomplicated. The story flows naturally from the stage into your heart, making a new Christmas memory.
But wait. There’s more.
“A Christmas Memory” is preceded by “Radio ReRun,” a 1930s radio show with a dozen players including a pianist, an enthusiastic bell ringer and a horse, all singing, telling jokes, and doing commercials for Maxwell House Coffee, Campbell Soup and Lux Soap.
Directed with wit by Mary Conley, the radio station, filling half the stage, is called KCAT (what else!) Songs include “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus” and “The Twelve Days After Christmas.” There’s a bickering sketch by the Bickersons, played by CAT proprietors Rosemary and David Lauria.
Mind the applause sign and do your part.
The radio program ends with a song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The players exit, and without intermission, “A Christmas Memory” begins.
The other half of the stage lights up, and Buddy stands at the kitchen radio singing the same song, as he prepares to share his Christmas memories. It's a gift worth giving year after year.
“A Christmas Memory” plays at CAT on Saturday, Dec. 15, and Sunday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
For more information, call CAT at 541-991-3773.