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Rediscover Christmas with radio play this weekend

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In 1950, the Forgotten Coast was experiencing America’s “Forgotten War” in Korea, and several young men went off to fight in a bitterly cold country half a planet away.

Back on the home front, as Christmas came around, it was time to remember the warmth and love of the homeland, and so the Panhandle Players decided to put on a radio play modeled on the famous Christmas film, “Miracle on 34th Street.”

That’s the imagined premise of a radio play, staged live at the Chapman Theatre and adapted from the film script by locals Jerry Hurley and Rob Pierce.

The work hearkens back to a time when radio drama was slowly fading away as the glow of black-and-white TV began to flicker in living rooms across America.

An energetic cast, a crisp direction and the creation of live sound effects all combine for an enjoyable evening, or afternoon, at the theater, when you can relax and dream back to a story of how a perhaps loony Kris Kringle (Nick Avossa) actually believes he is in fact Santa Claus, and turns downtown New York topsy turvy with his claims.

An accomplished 40-year veteran of teaching, performing and directing theater, Avossa is the glue that holds this homemade Christmas card for the stage together, and he is blessed to have a solid cast twinkling like a constellation around him, including his wife Carol, who he somehow convinced to take a small part in her first stage appearance. Kathy McKendree as well is appearing on the stage for the first time.

Newcomer Debra Olds, not to the theater but to the Panhandle Players troupe, sparkles as Doris Walker, a no-nonsense staffer at Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street. Faith Lynch, as a gruff Mr. Macy, and Carol Brazsky, as a variety of offbeat characters, add comic touches to the show; and Sally Crown, as the children’s voices, a poignant one.

While the women are the ones that bring the show fully to life, the men are equally strong, led by Graham Dewsbury, whose rich English accent gives depth to the proper Mr. Shellhammer and the judge; by Bob Inguagiato, as a host of strident voices; and by Pierce, as the suave attorney Fred, and Hurley, in a variety of small but essential parts.

Special credit goes to Patrick Leach, who is usually the offstage sound man but this time handles a variety of sound effects on the stage itself, and to directors Renee Valentine and assistant Mishelle McPherson, who have put together a stylish return to the days when the Christmas spirit reigned supreme in the hearts and hearts of America.

The Panhandle Players “Miracle on 34th Street” is performed Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapman Theatre in Apalachicola, and on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at thew door. To buy tickets are for more info, visit www.panhandleplayers.org.

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