A Christmas Story
by Jean Shepherd - Adapted by Philip Grecian - Directed by Joe Kilpatrick
Reviewed by Wayne Erreca (11-30-14)
My boyhood memories of the Christmas Season was snuggling under a blanket in front of our black and white television set, that had two wire rabbit ears on top, and a bowl full of freshly popped, buttered popcorn resting on my lap. The suspense and joy I felt as the channel was turned to the 1951 film production of A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sims, is one of my fondest memories. Another favorite was the 1946 Frank Capra production of It’s a Wonderful life, with James Stewart and Donna Reed. These two marvelous movies continue to entertain families to this very day. Then, in 1983, something unusual entered the Christmas Season, a new film written by screenwriter Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story, about a nine year old boy named Ralphie, with an obsession to receive a wrapped gift Christmas box with a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle inside it. The film was a huge success and is in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally and historically significant”.
In the year 2000, Philip Grecian published his stage adaptation of the film A Christmas Story. He faithfully incorporated most of the humorous scenes found in the ingenious film version, making a sincere attempt to remain true to the original storyline and creative structure. He included the hilarious rumbling basement furnace, the bullish youngster Scut Farkas, the frozen tongue glued to the lamppost, and the sentimental prized woman net stocking leg, lighted lamp, with shade.
In his stage version of A Christmas Story he created a narrator named Ralph (Matt Marek), who happens to be the adult Ralphie (Henry Diede). Marek provides a steady, calm, and articulate setting of the scenes throughout the production. His characterization is somewhat stoic, but pleasantly performed, leaving me to believe he was directed to do so. It’s a straightforward approach, without any extra spice thrown in. Diede, has an amazing physical similarity to actor Peter Billingsley who played the nine year old Ralphie in the film. He performs wonderfully, hitting all of the facial and physical comedy audiences expect to see. His performance was well grounded, surprisingly thoughtful, and revealing a strong maturity. Ralphie’s mom (Lori Pilong) is absolutely delightful. Her every step and word was perfectly measured with the appropriate emotion. Although, being a comedy play, she approached it as if she were in a drama by intelligently abstaining from trying to squeeze a laugh or two out of the audience with her every turn. Less is often more and in her case she is brilliantly talented, and a joy to watch. Ralphie’s Old Man (Ed Mulcahy) has incredible energy; in fact, if he could be wired to the electrical box he’d save the Playhouse a ton of money each month. I thoroughly enjoyed his antics during the car ride to pick up their Christmas tree, and especially when he frantically changed their flat tire.
The teacher, Ms Shields (Gabi Looker), looked and acted like a teacher. Looker did a fine job of staying within the boundaries, by not trying to make her role bigger than it should be. She was quite convincing. The other young actors performed wonderfully: Helen (Rachel Wares), Flick (Oliver Boomer), Esther Jane (Rachel Dunphey), Randy (Logan Wilcox), Grover (Deonte Alger), Scut Farkas (Henry Parvel), Schwartz (Ethan Roe).
As always, Set Designer Kerr Anderson did a splendid job in providing a functional and creative atmosphere for the actors, and visual enjoyment, for the audience. Costumes by Kathy Verstraete embraced the time period nicely, Light Design by Bill Fishburn created multiple moods, and Sound Design by Gary Bolton added many bright audible moments throughout the play. Props by Karen Gardner, which there are many, fleshed out the set wonderfully. Producer Cris Boyer handled his important responsibilities successfully, and gracefully.
Director Joe Kilpatrick did marvelously in bringing this play to the stage. He had just finished playing Estragon for three months, in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and immediately took the director reins the following week. The play version of A Christmas Story is no small task to mount successfully. The many multiple scenes in the film version has the advantage of quick and clean edits that move the storyline rapidly along, whereas, the stage version, in having a narrator breaking the fourth wall, and having to usher props, on and off the stage, during each of the different scenes, it has a tendency to lumber along in places. Kilpatrick, staff, and crew did a remarkable job in overcoming some of these nagging difficulties.
A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Carol are my three favorite Christmas films. There is a lot to appreciate in this stage version of A Christmas Story at the Old Town Playhouse. You will laugh, feel warmth, and have fond memories of your own childhood. If you loved the film, you’ll relive your favorite moments, by watching these fine young actors bringing a little Christmas cheer to fill your hearts.