What if the family narrative that shapes us is a lie? Three Decembers tells the story of aging Broadway star Madeline Mitchell and her two adult children as they struggle to connect and heal old wounds while family secrets are revealed. This intimate, compelling drama takes place over two decades during the AIDS crisis, and has been hailed by critics as a modern masterpiece.
Music by Jake Heggie
Libretto by Gene Scheer
Based on an original play by Terrence McNally
Commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera
Thursday, July 21, 7:30pm
Saturday, July 23, 1:00pm
PS21/Performance Spaces for the 21st Century
Approximate running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
This production will not have an intermission
This production contains adult language
Sung in English
BOF’s production of Three Decembers is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Note: Following the Thursday, July 21 performance, BOF Artistic Director and Co-Founder Brian Garman will host a discussion with director Beth Greenberg, conductor Christopher James Ray and all 3 cast members - Adriana Zabala (Madeline Mitchell), Monica Dewey (Beatrice) and Theo Hoffman (Charlie). There will be a question-and-answer session and audience participation is encouraged. Everyone is welcome.
The Creative Team
Hair and Make-up
English Diction Coach
Production Stage Manager
The action takes place during the month of December in the years 1986, 1996, and 2006.
Part I: 1986
Siblings Charlie and Beatrice (Bea) read their mother’s annual Christmas letter while talking on the phone. They share laughs and unapologetic sarcasm over their mother’s writing style, attempting to gloss over their strained relationship with her. Charlie is in San Francisco and Bea is in Hartford, while their famous mother, Madeline (Maddy) Mitchell, is working in the Caribbean for the holiday. Maddy writes about Christmas with their father before they were born. Bea admits that she hardly remembers their dad, since they were both very young when he died, but they miss him nonetheless. Maddy announces that she will be starring in her first Broadway musical, which Charlie refuses to attend. Maddy ends the letter with goodbyes, but she wrongly addresses Charlie’s partner as Curt. Charlie becomes increasingly upset, having hoped that after five years with Burt, his mother at least would have remembered his name (“Curt.” She called him “Curt”). Bea admits that she envies the love Charlie and Burt share.
On stage, Maddy sings “Daybreak,” the final number from her new Broadway show.
A well-dressed Bea joins Maddy in her dressing room after a performance of the new musical. Bea praises Maddy’s performance as she instinctively helps her mother with her post-show dressing room routine. Bea is very concerned for Charlie and Burt as AIDS is causing Burt’s health to deteriorate rapidly. She accuses Maddy of being an absent parent, unsupportive of her children. Defending herself, Maddy claims she was only away from her children because she had to provide for the family as a single mother.
Bea visits Charlie in San Francisco. Burt is not doing well, and Charlie is coming to terms with Burt’s impending death. The siblings reminisce on their childhood, what they remember about their father, and what they may have invented over time (Duet: What do you remember about Dad?)
Part II: 1996
Charlie is alone in his apartment, surrounded by packed and sealed boxes, flipping through his journal and disclosing that Burt died recently at Christmastime (Each day I write you four little lines). Maddy eventually came to visit shortly before Burt died. Maddy’s voice is heard, singing the lullaby Charlie’s father used to sing to him, and which she sang to Burt when she visited.
Maddy has been nominated again for a Tony Award. Bea and Charlie plan to join their mother for the award ceremony. All three in their respective locations sing the father’s lullaby, encouraging themselves to let go of their fears and frustrations.
Alone in Maddy’s apartment on the night of the Tony Awards, Bea stands in front of a full-length mirror, trying on her mother’s clothes as she sips from a glass of wine (She’s late). Bea is slowly unraveling in her insecurities, her mother’s criticism and neglect, her unfaithful husband, and her drinking habits. Charlie rushes in with shopping bags, noticing that Bea is upset, but she denies it. He attempts to raise her spirits with impersonations of their mother. Maddy enters, preparing her acceptance speech. She plans to acknowledge Charlie and Burt’s relationship and how no one is immune to tragedy. Charlie and Bea are unimpressed. Maddy accuses Bea of being drunk and acting just like her father, revealing the grim truth that their father was an alcoholic who could not hold a job. The children believed their father had been killed in a car accident, but Maddy finally shares that his death was a suicide. Charlie and Bea are devastated. Their argument is interrupted because Maddy must get ready for the award ceremony. Bea and Charlie, shattered by the news of their father, refuse to go with Maddy.
Part III: 2006
Maddy has died quietly in her sleep, after writing her latest Christmas letter. Bea and Charlie speak at her memorial service held in a Broadway theater. They offer a loving tribute to both their parents’ souls. The service concludes with the last lines from Maddy’s final Christmas letter: “All in all isn’t life simply grand? I’m so awfully glad I showed up for it.”
Synopsis courtesy of Opera Birmingham