by Jessica Martin

A CHRISTMAS STORY, based on the TV movie of the same name, is becoming almost as popular this holiday season as Dickens’ A CHRISTAS CAROL (or SCROOGE).  The latest production of this later classic is by the Sketch Club Players at Woodbury Sketch Club, and it’s a real charmer.  It is (again) based on humorist Jean Shepherd’s stories about his boyhood in Indiana.  The plot is very slim; the play’s appeal lies in its portrayal of small-town life at Christmas time in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

The play is narrated by Ralph Parker (Greg Murphy, also co-director), who recalls one particular time when he was nine years old.  He is always present and sometime plays minor characters.  Young Ralphie’s only wish for Christmas is a Red Ryder air rifle (BB gun) with a compass and sundial in its stock.  He fantasizes about saving his family and friends from bad guys with this rifle.  He goes to great lengths to make his wish known, but every time he mentions it (to his parents, his teacher and Santa Claus), he gets the same reply:  “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

There are several subplots, if they can be called that.  Ralphie says the worst of bad words and is punished with soap in his mouth.  He beats up the neighborhood bully, Scut Farkas, who has been terrorizing the other kids.  His father (always called “The Old Man”) receives a “grand prize” from a contest he entered:  a lamp shaped like a woman’s leg in a fishnet stocking. with the lampshade as her skirt.  Needless to say, Mom is not too thrilled with it.   Ralphie and his little brother Randy join the kids in line to see Santa, with hilarious results.  In the end, even minor disasters cannot keep this Christmas from being “the best ever.”

Murphy is perfectly marvelous as the grown-up Ralph.  Matt Ludovico, an experienced young actor but in his Sketch Club debut, is an appealing Ralphie.  Anthony Atzert as Randy is a first-time performer, but you would never know it.  Laura Bongiovanni is the perfect mother, even though she always seems to make oatmeal for breakfast and meat loaf and red cabbage for dinner.  Karl Miller is delightful as The Old Man.  And let us not forget Marti Palmieri, who as Miss Shields reminds us of the teacher we all remember fondly.

The set is simply and cleverly designed to make the changes of location believable.

Altogether, A CHRISTMAS STORY evokes nostalgia in those who remember “the good old days” and laughter in all who see it.

By Philip Grecian, based on stories by Jean Shepherd
Directed by Greg Murphy and Frank Myers
December 2-18, 2011
Sketch Club Players
433 Glover Street
Woodbury, NJ 08096-2623

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