'Merry Christmas, Strega Nona' opens Dec. 9

Columbia Center for the Arts presents family-friendly holiday comedy

STREGA NONA (Desiree Amyx-Mackintosh, with cane) and a large cast fill the stage with the beloved Tomie Paola story set in an Italian village.

Photo by Chris Smith
STREGA NONA (Desiree Amyx-Mackintosh, with cane) and a large cast fill the stage with the beloved Tomie Paola story set in an Italian village.

A fun, joyful and poignant story of how villagers in southern Italy discover the magic of Christmas comes to the stage in Hood River starting Saturday.

“Merry Christmas, Strega Nona,” from one of a series of books by Tomie Paola, opens at Columbia Center for the Arts, with a cast of seven adults and 10 children from Gorge communities.

“It’s definitely a family show, but very young kids would still be engaged. We wanted to have as many matinees as made sense, to make it accessible for young kids,” said Director Sullivan Mackintosh (see Tickets and Times, below).


Cynthia Yoshida plays the town mayor. The colorful, evocative costumes are by Judy Richardson.

In a nutshell, the “Strega Nona” plot is this: It's Christmastime in Calabria. There's no time for Strega Nona's usual business of curing headaches, mixing love potions, and getting rid of warts. Instead she must prepare her annual feast for the whole town.

How will Strega Nona ever have the feast ready by Christmas Eve?

Will the answer be found in untrustworthy, clumsy Big Anthony?

Most of the action takes place in the town bakery and town square. “We’re keeping the set pretty consistent,” Mackintosh said. “I’m a fan of seamless transitions, so we have a shadow screen with projected background done in cardboard cutouts.

“The original ‘Strega Nona’ is near and dear to me. My Mom read to me when I was young,” she said. “I was looking for a holiday show, and I’m really drawn to stories based in children’s literature. I still get excited by those stories.”

Her mom, Desiree Amyx-Mackintosh, plays Strega Nona. The key roles of Big Anthony and Bambolona are played by Noel Oishi and Audrey Fuentes.


“Merry Christmas, Strega Nona” is the annual Christmas play at the center, and extends the center’s exploration of children’s theater opportunities, guided by consulting director (and play director) Sulllivan Mackintosh, a 2011 Hood River Valley High School graduate.

“I found the script, and was surprised it existed, and from the sample pages knew the would be lots of opportunity for physical comedy, but the story is really very sweet and it’s got the Christmas spirit that applies to the winter season in general, not just the Christmas holiday,” Mackintosh said. “It has the community feel of winter, and the coziness of winter in that season, not only the Christmas holiday specifically.”

But “Merry Christmas” is in the title, and the sentiment comes through, in lines such as “Christmas has a magic of its own.”

Mackintosh notes, “The line reappears throughout the play and that is the lesson Strega Nona is trying to impart on her young friends. What does that mean to them at the beginning of the play versus the end, and how do they make discoveries about what that really is?”

The play contains “lots of Italian phrases, which is fun,” she said, “just to sort of set the atmosphere of this busy bakery in southern Italy.”

Mackintosh has help in her production from Nicole Scribner, another HRVHS grad (and director of “The Little Prince” set for spring 2018 at the center) and technical help from HRVHS seniors Zach Barbour and Zach Ansberry.

“The two Zachs are keeping me grounded,” said Mackintosh, who splits her time between Hood River and Portland, where she teaches in New Moon Productions’ in-school drama program and at Oregon Children’s Theater.


“Strega Nona” contains plenty of physical comedy; look for a frosting mishap in the story, told with the help of realistic food created by Mackintosh, who displays spiral cookies and a layer cake she made. Bread, muffins, petits four and other baked goods were made from painted playdough, fleece bean bags, cardboard and fabric. “We needed fake food so that if it gets dropped, it doesn’t break,” she said.

Tickets & Times

“Merry Christmas, Strega Nona”

Columbia Center for the Arts, Third and Cascade

Dec. 9-10, Dec. 14-16 — Shows at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets at columbiaarts.org, or at the door: $20 adults, $15 student/seniors and $8 children under 10

Cast & Crew

Strega Nona: Desirée Amyx-Mackintosh

Big Anthony: Noël Oishi

Bambolona: Audrey Fuentes

Little Paolo: Hanna Clute

Nun: Jana Hannigan

Signora Rosa, the Mayor: Cynthia Yoshida

Papa Bambo the Baker: Azmat Bhatty

Paolo’s Mother: Carrie Fuentes

Matron: Michelle Nijhuis

Puppeteer: Jana Hannigan

Puppeteer’s Apprentice: Sylvia Perrin

Giovani (Teen) Ensemble: Grace Clute, Raven Levine, Hunter Reichel, Zora Richardson, Noble Williams

Bambini (Child) Ensemble: Aneka Diem, Sylvia Perrin, Kyra Williams

Zampognari (Shepherd) Ensemble: Davis Mackintosh, Sam Schultz, Nicole Scribner

Director: Sullivan Mackintosh

Music Director: Sam Schultz

Assistant Director, Puppet Operator: Nicole Scribner

Stage Manager: Zach Barbour

Backstage Crew: Zach Amsberry, Davis Mackintosh

Costumes: Sullivan Mackintosh, Judy Richardson

Props: Jana Hannigan, Davis Mackintosh, Sullivan Mackintosh, Nicole Scribner

Set: Zach Amsberry, Zach Barbour, Sullivan Mackintosh, Nicole Scribner

Lighting: Zach Amsberry, Zach Barbour

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