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The world of childhood play

‘Holiday Memories’ at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble

November 13, 2011
By BRIAN BUSH - , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

BLOOMSBURG - Few things can evoke childhood memories as vividly as the holiday season. The holidays are like a conduit to the past, returning us to the state of childhood - the giddy anticipation, the time spent with family, the comforts of home. Where does this memory-inducing power come from?

The most likely explanation is that the holidays are full of rituals and constants - things that we remember from childhood, things that haven't changed all that much. Examples of these constants abound: there's the Christmas tree, the traditional holiday meal and, of course, the holiday movie. It's no coincidence that television networks have taken to broadcasting certain holiday films for 24 hours.

Networks know this round-the-clock programming will generate high viewing figures. Whether it's an old favorite like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966) or a modern classic like "Elf" (2003), there's nothing like a familiar story to transport us to the state of being a child again. So we tune in.

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The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble will present “Holiday Memories” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26 through Dec. 30 at the Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Center St., Bloomsburg. The play is directed by Gerard Stropnicky, who has been a member of the BTE since its inception in 1978.

This holiday season, theatergoers are in for a rare treat, as one holiday classic goes from screen to stage. The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble will present "Holiday Memories" at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26 through Dec. 30 at the Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Center St. The play is directed by Gerard Stropnicky, who has been a member of the BTE since its inception in 1978.

"Holiday Memories" is a stage adaptation of two short stories by Truman Capote. Both stories feature a narrator named Truman, who recalls childhood memories of holidays spent with his relatives in Monroeville, Ga.

The stories follow the exploits of Buddy (Truman's 7-year-old former self) and his 60-year-old cousin, Ms. Sook.

Many will recall first encountering "Holiday Memories" as a 1966 television Christmas special. Stropnicky's own childhood encounter with the TV version made him want to direct the play.

"That production bears into my childhood memories of Christmas," Stropnicky said. "I remember watching it as a little boy. It was a magnificently acted version starring Geraldine Page that was shown every year. Capote himself did the narrative voice-over."

According to Stropnicky, "Holiday Memories" is very faithful to Capote's original stories.

"Capote's writing is very present in this stage version," Stropnicky said. "Ultimately, it's a theater piece, but fans of the short stories will be thrilled with this adaptation. We've preserved so much of the beautiful language of the stories."

"Holiday Memories" is comprised of two one-act plays, which are closely related in terms of their themes and characters.

The play's first act is based on "The Thanksgiving Visitor," which relates the events following Ms. Sook's decision to invite the school bully - who torments Buddy for being a "sissy" - to Thanksgiving dinner.

"A Christmas Memory" - which follows Buddy and Ms. Sook as they gather ingredients to prepare 30 fruitcakes for recipients as varied and far-fetched as President Franklin Roosevelt - forms the basis of the play's second act.

Wildly entertaining as they are, the stories that make up "Holiday Memories" are equally profound and affecting.

Stropnicky was keen to emphasize the play's deeper dimensions.

"The play is really about seeing the world through a child's eyes," Stropnicky said. "Capote is remembering his childhood in these stories and he's finding some profound and universal truths along the way. There is great loneliness and great friendship in the play. There is a lesson about material things being unimportant. The everyday is given a divine and transcendent quality."

Stropnicky said he hopes audiences come away from the play with an appreciation for the beauty of everyday experience.

"I'm hoping they'll be a little moved by the play's focus on the small, ordinary things of life - with a sense of that joy," he said. "They'll leave thinking about what really matters, which is the best gift we can offer during Christmas. It's what makes any given Christmas story work."

Stropnicky also emphasized the play's broad appeal.

"For older folks who love language, boy it's there. For those who are younger and are delighted by puppetry and magic, it's there. For those who love music, it's there, too. The play has something for everyone."

At its core, "Holiday Memories" is a play about childhood, which makes its capacity to bring back childhood memories all the more poignant.

Central to all childhood experience is the act of playing. "Holiday Memories" invites its audience to reenter the world of childhood play.

"I hope our production can open the doors to a playful world," Stropnicky said. "Playful in terms of language, playful in terms of toys and playful in terms of a child's view of life."

Ultimately, the play allows us to re-inhabit an ideal state: to bring all the imagination and wonder of childhood to bear upon our perception of the world around us.



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