Christmas is a time of love and generosity, and if you're lucky enough to be a little boy named Amahl it is a time of miracles and renewed hope. Islanders showed their own generosity by turning out in scores for Island Theatre Workshop's (ITW) opening night benefit production of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" by Gian Carlo Menotti last Friday. All the proceeds from the play benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Martha's Vineyard, an organization that provides miracles of its own for the Island's children.
Amahl is directed by an old pro at ITW, the talented Lee Fierro, with Peter Boak serving as the musical director. Visitors to the Katharine Cornell Theatre are brought back in time of Jesus's birth. The play opens with a little crippled boy, Amahl, played by seventh grader Eli Dagostino from the West Tisbury School, dressed in a modest cloak and red hat playing his wooden flute as he dangles his feet off the stage. His mother, played by soprano Annie Palches, calls for him to come inside and get ready for sleep. But the mischievous child has a penchant for dreaming, and does not want to come in. Like many children, he begs his mother for a few more minutes before he is forced to retire.
Once inside, the audience can see that Amahl and his mother live in dire poverty, with no wood to make a fire and no food for their supper. The simple set includes a wooden doorframe, a bench and a wooden frame for a fire, leaving the audience to use their imagination and focus on the singing and acting.
To Amahl's surprise, somebody knocks on his door. When he goes out to see who's there, he finds three kings, the three wise men played by Kevin Ryan, Brad Austin, and Elza Minor, and their page, played by Jane Lawson, dressed in lavish velvet robes and carrying great riches. When he tells his mother who's there, she thinks this is another one of his many tall tails and orders him to quit lying and come back into the house. To her surprise, this time little Amahl is telling the truth, and in enters the comic relief.
Amahl and his mother are fascinated by these men with their boxes of beautiful beads and golden coins. Amahl's mother longs for a few pieces of gold to feed herself and her son, but Amahl wants something less tangible -something that would certainly require a miracle. Upon hearing his wish, the kings give him a gift more valuable than any gold, frankincense, or myrrh. And so, what starts out as a sad story of poverty and misfortune ends in hope and a great Christmas miracle.
It is a great play to bring the children or grandchildren to, and a play that everyone can enjoy. In all, "Amahl" is another enjoyable production by the hard-working actors and actresses of the Island Theatre Workshop."Amahl and the Night Visitors" Thursday and Friday, Jan. 17, 18, 7:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 19, 20, 3 pm. Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $15; discount for Island Card holders. For more information or reservations, call 508-693-5290.
Heather Curtis is a contributing writer to The Times.