Adam’s Gifts – written by Peter Filichia – at St. John’s Lutheran Church
From My Seat in the Pew
by: Mari Lyn Henry
As I sat in the pew waiting for the show to begin, I was reminded that theatre began in the church and what better place to present this charming updated version of Dickens’ iconic Christmas story. His villain isn’t Scrooge or the Grinch, but a miserly, money grubbing, cynical, slum landlord with anger management issues named Willard Pront, (William Parry paints a believable and intense portrait), an apt moniker for a conniving, gun-toting rat. In the opening scene, he is verbally abusing Jason, (the versatile Philip Hoffman) the “Bob Cratchit” character who has slaved for him, brought him McDonalds’ takeout, worked long hours with no overtime, run interference for the class action suits brought against him by the tenants in his 58 buildings. When Jason asks for a raise, Willard cites the recession and Jason quits!
In this clever retelling, there is a female spirit (played with enchanting verve by Maureen Silliman) who represents the past, present and future. Willard threatens her physically but her powerful magical hand gestures thwart his advances. She is omniscient and knows that Willard had no childhood or education, lost his mother when he was four and was sold to a street thug. At the age of six, he was a “bag” boy delivering packages to lowlifes. He developed a facility for addition and subtraction and could read street addresses, but had no knowledge of Christmas. his own birthday, or how to love. When he was 18, Sammy, the gangster, had a massive heart attack, leaving Willard on his own. The Spirit then takes him to his first meeting with Mary (Julia Peterson, who skillfully portrays the teenaged naïve girlfriend as well as Adam’s loving mother), an avid reader and cultured girl who takes him to “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” unaware this is Willard’s first movie. His lack of education and obsession with making money ends the relationship.
The scene shifts to the present day where eleven year old Adam, (the very talented Hayden Wall who also played the young Willard) is reading a Harry Potter book and helping Lisa, his mother. sort through her emails. The son of Jason, he is also the Tiny Tim in this story suffering from a rare incurable disease. At the urging of the Spirit, Pront appears and Jason says he gets “tired of telling people his son is going to die.” Planting gifts for Adam in his pockets, the Spirit urges Pront to give them to him. Lisa, a gourmet cook, offers him delicious canapés and helps negotiate a 20 percent raise for Jason.
In the following scene, Adam asks Mr. Pront to get a book in the bookcase. Due to his illiteracy Willard gives him the wrong titles and confesses for the first time that he never learned to read or write. Adam becomes his tutor and in progressive scenes he becomes a Kindle reader and a playgoer.
The Spirit describes his future if there had been no redemption. Including going to hell, he would have to hear non-stop chatter about the evil things he had done and would be known forever as the world’s most miserable man.
BUT there is a treatment for the rare disease, and they must travel to Greece for the medicine. Pront finances the trip and Adam rallies. He fixes all of the building violations he has neglected and predictably starts dating one of the tenants. She escorts Willard to Adam’s 12th birthday celebration which now becomes his as well. And continuing the Dickens tradition, the toast is accompanied by “And God Bless Us Everyone.”
“Adam’s Gifts” is Peter Filichia’s gift of an amusing, heartfelt, novel. modern interpretation which reinforces the importance of an education, the evils of greed and false pride, and the belief that love and warmth, friendship and understanding will always be more valuable than material things.
Thanks to producer June Rachelson-Ospa, director Daniel Neiden, and the talented cast for bringing this story to life.