The reasons for wanting to adapt The House Without A Christmas Tree were numerous. Great story, complex characters, a father and daughter reconnecting….I could go on and on. The trick was in HOW to adapt it. Can you take what is there and expand it to a full play without losing the essence of the story? Well, I think you can and I think we did.
John and Kelli Cramer were a big part of this. They are the ones who introduced me to this story. It was one of their favorite holiday stories, and their affection for it was infectious. I read the book, I watched the TV movie, and I was hooked. I just loved it. But I did have some concerns.
First, there was not a lot of attention given to any character outside of Grandma, Dad, and Addie. The characters that were there simply did not have much to do. In order to become a Mainstage production, it needed some of these peripheral characters to become more prominent. The students in Addie’s class, for starters. I wanted to see a little more of the classroom world, and what kinds of characters there were, and seeing Addie in that world helps give us a fuller picture of her.
Luckily, we have an outstanding group of young and talented students in our A.C.T. (Academy at Civic Theatre) program. I had no doubt we had more than enough young talent to fill this classroom with some fun characters. And in the end, these students help shape our perception of Addie, and really do help to tell her story. And these are relationships and students we all experienced in our grade school years–the first crush, the destructive kid, the kid who always bragged about something, the know-it-all. There is something each of us can connect to in this colorful group of kids.
There was also not a lot for the teacher, Miss Thompson, to do. I wanted to find a way to see her grow throughout the play. A big key was adding the characters of the principal and his assistant. This provided the chance to tell a sweet, sometimes clumsy love story between the Eugene and Peggy, with Mrs. Kulwicki giving running commentary throughout.
The final major adjustment I made was that I wanted to lighten things up. The actual storyline between Addie and her father gets quite intense at times. I think the other characters in the play help to offset that drama and keep the story more balanced. I also think the culmination of all of these stories helps to make it a much bigger, more satisfying payoff at the end. There needed to be more hope, more optimism at the end, or else the struggle to get there doesn’t seem worth it. It would be like watching It’s A Wonderful Life, and having George Bailey be “sort of happy” to be alive at the end (spoiler alert-George Bailey lives and he’s THRILLED about it).
At the end of the day, I am a sucker for a sweet and heartfelt holiday show. And that’s what I think we have here. I think audience members will find themselves belly laughing in one scene, and getting choked up in the next scene. This show is nostalgic without being dated. The kind of show where parents can watch with their kids and not worry about questionable content. All of us involved in the show are very proud of that, and we sincerely hope you enjoy it.