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West Chicago to start holiday season with 'The Christmas Tree' at Gallery Theater

Published: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
Sonja, played by Laura DeWitt, and Daniel, played by Will Austin, share their reasons why they should get the last Christmas tree on a lot on Christmas Eve during rehearsals for Gallery Theater's upcoming play "The Christmas Tree."

WEST CHICAGO – Christmas is coming a little early to West Chicago this year with Gallery Theater’s production of “The Christmas Tree.”

The play, by Norm Foster, tells the story of two people who arrive at a Christmas tree lot on Christmas Eve, looking to purchase its last tree. As they each explain why they deserve the tree, they learn about each other and the meaning of Christmas.

“The characters are kind of selfish in the beginning, and they want things for themselves, but they realize the holidays are a time to celebrate giving or sharing,” said actor Will Austin, who portrays the character Daniel in the play.

Gallery Theater is located downstairs from Gallery 200, West Chicago’s art gallery. The theater was started in 2010 by the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission to expand on the success of the gallery by including other art forms.

Although there are still community members who are surprised to learn about the gallery and its offerings, overall, West Chicago has a strong arts community, said theater manager Janet Gilleland, who lived in the city for 25 years before moving to Carol Stream.

“It’s a thriving community for a small town,” she said.

Gilleland has been involved with the Gallery Theater since it began. She directs all of its shows, although other directors are welcome to get involved.

The 40-seat theater has seen 10 actors at most on the stage at one time and “The Christmas Tree” is an especially intimate show, featuring only two actors.

Laura DeWitt of Lombard plays Sonja, whom she describes as the more aggressive of the pair seeking to purchase the lot’s last tree.

DeWitt became involved with acting after returning to school to get a general associate’s degree from College of DuPage (COD) in Glen Ellyn, where she took an acting class on a whim.

A classmate contacted her to fill in for an actress who was forced to drop out of a Gallery Theater production after contracting pneumonia. “The Christmas Tree” is DeWitt’s third play with the theater.

“All the plays I’ve been in, all the actors are just amazing, really kind people,” she said.

In turn, DeWitt recruited Austin, whom she met through the theater program at COD, to play Daniel in “The Christmas Tree.”

This is the Wheaton resident’s first play with the Gallery Theater as he continues to pursue an associate’s degree in art with a concentration in theater.

Both actors said they had never been in a production before with only one other person, and it forced them to know their lines perfectly while allowing for fun opportunities to play off each other.

Over the years, the theater has increased the number of shows it performs each season, from two shows its first year to five shows last year.

This season, the theater will put on four productions.

Support for the theater is growing, both from repeat audience members and returning actors, Gilleland said.

DeWitt hopes the upcoming production’s audience takes away the Christmas spirit and the humor of “The Christmas Tree.”

“If we make people laugh, and they’re smiling when they walk out, then mission accomplished,” she said.

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