“There are three cousins, a half-uncle, a kind of brother-in-law – that is, the brother of my sister-in-law’s second husband – and a niece. That’s six. But I’ve never met ‘em, and I want to give them a Christmas party, and I’d like you to run it for me,” explained Dick Spindler to the widow Huldy Price. How this Christmas party comes together in the town of Rough and Ready is all part of the fun in “Dick Spindler’s Family Christmas” by Bret Harte.
Meanwhile, another miner, Cherokee, wants to share his new-found fortune with old friends and all the children in Yellowhammer - a town whose youngest citizen uses a safety razor. How the townsfolk try to make Cherokee’s Christmas plans come true is at the core of O. Henry’s humorous and insightful story, “Christmas by Injunction.”
Francis Bret Harte’s (1839-1902) story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat” was first published 1868. In 1871, he signed a contract with “The Atlantic Monthly” to write twelve stories in one year for $10,000, the most that had ever been offered an American writer up to that time. O. Henry (William Sydney Porter, 1862-1910) adopted his pseudonym while serving time in prison. The creator of one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time, “The Gift of the Magi,” died at age 47, with 23 cents in his pocket.
“Christmas by Injunction” and “Dick Spindler’s Family Christmas” were adapted by ELTC's artistic director Gayle Stahlhuth who began performing her own one-person plays in 1981 at venues including Chatauquas throughout the country and The Smithsonian. Since 2006, she has performed Christmas stories in Cape May based on works by L. Frank Baum, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Mark Twain, Edward Everett Hale, Louisa May Alcott, and more, much to the delight of local residents and visitors. In each show, Stahlhuth interprets over thirty-some characters in which the shrug of a shoulder, the flick of a wrist, and a change in her voice, brings a character to life. For many patrons, these original performances are part of their holiday tradition.
Performances of “Christmas with Harte and O. Henry” are at The Cape May Presbyterian Church, 500 Hughes St., where the company is in residence. As usual with ELTC’s Christmas shows, the regular ticket price is reduced as an early holiday gift to its audience. Tickets are $28 for general admission; $20 for full-time students, military (active/retired/veteran), and those with disabilities and support companions, and, as always with ELTC productions, those ages twelve and under are free. For information and reservations, call 609-884-5898 or go online to www.eastlynnetheater.org.