An uncle is found, a marriage is saved, and an angel is heard. Now, you can listen to the radio play of all five acts.
The story so far: A lost, cold, confused man has stumbled into the annual Christmas party of the Yule Be Sorry Club, a group of old friends who gather at R&B Automotive shop to toast the season. The rest of the revelers have abandoned R&B’s owners, Tony Renzi and Bart Brewer, as they try to help the old man, Gino Bontempo, find his niece’s home, where he’s supposed to spend the holiday. Tony and Bart press on, trying to find Gino’s niece (who supposedly lives above or near a flower shop), even as they fend off increasingly frantic calls from their wives. They’ve just narrowly averted a scam by someone pretending to be Gino’s relative, in order to steal his car.
BART: OK, last ditch try, pardner. Let’s switch it up to change our luck. You call the florists, I’ll do Bontempos.
NARRATOR: For a few minutes, Tony hit nothing but dead ends. Barry’s Blooms, no answer. The Flower Cart, no help. The office clock clicked to 5:23. Tony was going to miss Bridget’s solo. Done deal. Press on. He dialed Carl’s Creations in Mount Airy.
JEN SWEETAN: Hello, Carl’s Creations. Can I help you?
TONY: Hi, Merry Christmas, and sorry to bother you, but this is Tony Renzi at R&B Automotive out on the Pike, and well, we’re trying to help a lost old gentleman find his family. He stopped by our place an hour ago and . . .
JEN: My God! That’s Uncle Gino! You really have my Uncle Gino? Gino Bontempo? Short? Mustache? Fedora? Ratty white Mazda?
TONY: One and the same.
JEN (laughing): Thank God. I’m just so relieved, I’m shaking. Wait, is he … is he OK?
TONY: A little cold, a little dazed, but nothing a little red wine couldn’t cure.
JEN: What in the world happened? I’m his niece. He was due here yesterday. We’ve been crazy with worry. I called the state police, but they had nothing. Nothing. He’s so dear to me, he’s my godfather … he raised me after my parents … well, I’m just so happy to hear he’s OK, I guess I’m babbling. Where did you say you were again?
TONY: R & B Automotive, on Ridge Pike, ma’am. Best we can tell, I think he got a little lost on the Turnpike yesterday and, well, he had a rough go of it for a while. By the time he got here, he was one confused icicle. I do have one piece of advice for you in the future . . .
JEN: What’s that, Mr. . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name. I’m just so shook up, I’m sure I’m being quite rude.
TONY: Hey, no worries. Tony Renzi is the name; me and my partner Bart have been looking after your Gino. Happy to help. But if you don’t mind one suggestion: It’s never too late to buy a godfather a cell phone. And program your number into it.
JEN: Good thought. Hey, I think I know your place, across from the hardware store, right? Can you stay with him until we get there?
TONY: That’s it, right as rain.
JEN: We’ll be right over. Gosh, this is such a relief. How can we thank you?
TONY: Just hurry, ma’am. Just hurry.
NARRATOR: Tony hung up, and turned to see Gino smiling as he scratched Ziti behind the ears.
BART: We’re sure this one’s the real deal, Tone?
TONY: Certain. The niece described him to a T. And they live near the Wissahickon. By water, like Gino said.
BART: Look, Tone, I hate to do this, but since you’re already too late for Bridget, I can still keep Nicolena happy, just barely, if I leave now . . .
TONY: Go. Merry Christmas, Bart. You can visit me in the hospital after Coll gets done with me.
BART: Thanks, pardner. And Gino, you take care. Glad we found your niece. But, Gino . . . spring for a GPS before you drive anywhere again, OK?”
GINO: Yes, yes, a good idea. Very good.
NARRATOR: Bart raced out to make it to his mother-in-law’s in time for calamari.
TONY: Well, Gino, your niece is on her way. Til then, it’s just you and me – -and Ziti.
GINO: Thank you, friend, for staying with me. And for finding my Jen. You are good to do that.
TONY: De nada, Gino.
GINO: You are missing something for family because of me?
TONY: Yeah, well, right about now, my daughter Bridget is singing a solo at the church Christmas pageant. She’s 12, Gino, and she sings like an angel. That’s such a Dad thing to say, I know, but I swear that girl’s voice is touched by God. Everyone says so. But, well, I did miss this one; there’ll be others.
GINO: At this pageant, they tell the story of Mary and Joseph at the inn?
TONY: What? Well, yeah, guess so.
NARRATOR: The old man smiled; he’d rallied well. The baffled geezer of an hour ago seemed gone. … Or, maybe not.
GINO (chuckling) : Sometimes, you know, there’s no room at the inn. No power either. No power. So you hurry, now. And one other thing … the Ziti here? We had a talk. He won’t bark and bite at the vacuum anymore.
NARRATOR: Tony barely heard the odd things Gino was saying, so intently was he staring out at the lot, praying for headlights. In about five minutes, Jen Sweetan burst through the door. She smothered Gino with kisses:
JEN: Never, ever scare me like that again! You promise me, Uncle Gino?
GINO: Yes, yes, Jen, promise. Tony, my friend, you must hurry now. Make it to the pageant. Hear your girl sing.
TONY: ‘Fraid not, Gino. It’s way past time.”
GINO: No, Tony, it is Christmas. Go. Go quickly.
NARRATOR: So Tony did. A few minutes later, Tony pulled up to St. Anthony’s Church and confronted a strange scene. Though houses nearby blazed with holiday lights, the church was dark. As Tony parked and hustled toward the door, he saw people standing in clusters outside.
TONY: Sean, what’s up? Not over already, is it?
SEAN NEALY: Oh, hey, Tony. Nope. Power outage. Darnedest thing. Pageant was just about to start, in fact your Bridge had just walked to the front of the choir, when – poof. Total blackout. So we stumble out here, and see the rest of the neighborhood still all lit up. It’s just St. A’s, I guess. … Oh, hey, Colleen, I think I found your wayward husband.
COLLEEN: You. There you are, finally. You are the luckiest man in Philly tonight. With this blackout, somehow you didn’t miss a thing. You found the old guy’s family, you nut?
TONY: I did. That I did.
COLLEEN: Well, I’m glad. I .. Ohhh, hey. There go the lights back on. Tony, let’s hurry and get inside. I saved us seats up front.
NARRATOR: A few minutes later, a slim young girl, long, raven hair tied in a ponytail with a green velvet bow, strode to the front of the stage: Bridget. His Bridget. Tony felt Colleen’s hand clutch his. Grave but unafraid, Bridget looked out at the assembled adults.
BRIDGET (singing a capella) Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.
NARRATOR: Bridget’ voice, sweet and clear, a voice to make the seraphim smile, filled the old gym, with its basketball hoops raised to the ceiling like hands in prayer.
Tony couldn’t look at his daughter; too nervous. He stared at the pageant program in his hands. On the cover was an image of the church’s cherished stained-glass window of Christ the King.
Tony closed his eyes, letting Bridget’s voice wash over him. In his mind’s eye, the image from the program morphed. It was no longer a bearded king of kings. Instead, Tony saw a short, pot-bellied man, with a white moustache and a battered fedora for a crown, scratching the ears of a chocolate Labrador.
Bridget sustained the last note of the hymn for a gorgeous moment.
BRIDGET: That you do unto meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
NARRATOR: Christmas had come.
Hear a performance of this play on WHYY, 90.9 FM, at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 23.
Encore performances will be aired at 10 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 23; 1 p.m., Friday, Christmas Eve; 8 p.m., Friday, Christmas Eve, and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Christmas Day.
A narrative version of this story first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2007. The drawings are by Tony Auth, the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. They are reprinted by permission of the Inquirer and Tony Auth.
The Thursday airings will be followed by a broadcast of the WHYY holiday play first aired last year, Let Nothing Ye Dismay.