It has a simple name…A CHRISTMAS STORY. It’s consistently rated in the top 5 “classic Christmas” movies of all time. However, up until recently, I had never even seen the movie all the way through. Yes, I saw bits and pieces of it from the traditional Christmas Day marathon on television, but I never really knew how they all went together. Then I married into a family of A CHRISTMAS STORY diehards. So I sat down to watch it and realized it is a classic for a reason. While it doesn’t have the traditional message that other holiday movies have (you won’t find Ralphie running down the street yelling “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!”), it still does have a very important one. Family and friends…the good, the bad, and the ugly…is what life is all about.
Tri-PAC’s version of this classic tale relies heavily on very effective choices from director Bill Kiesling. Performed in an intimate black box theatre, every space is used by set designer Aaron Gould, including the scaffolding. All sets (except the heavily involved department store) are kept onstage at all times. This works very well, as the audience is looking down on the action. As each set is used, it is spotlighted, making it seem as if you are looking into a snowglobe or dollhouse. So the interior of Ralphie’s house shares the stage with the school room, the outside, and even the iconic flagpole.
I am not going to compare the play and movie at all except to say that there is one big difference. In the movie, you only hear the narration by the adult Ralph Parker; however, in the play, he is on stage almost the entire time. Sometimes he even plays other parts, such as the tree lot owner and the delivery man. Geoffrey Berwind is wonderful as he reminisces about a Christmas long-past. He has just the right blend of tongue-in-cheek, emotional, and wistful narration in his voice.
Most of the kids’ parts are alternated between performances. The night of my review, David Helmer (Ralphie), Xander Dake (Randy), Nathan Esser (Flick), Sebastian Coates (Schwartz), Olivia Swenson (Esther Jane Alberry), Lauren Esser (Helen Weathers), and William Bell (Scut Farcus) were all spot-on. There are so many funny lines, that it is much to their professional credit that they can keep a straight face the entire time. Swenson especially had me in stitches as the Ralphie-crazed Esther Jane.
The adult actors are just as wonderful, taking their parts and running with them. Since A CHRISTMAS STORY depicts the holiday from Ralphie’s point of view, the adults are there to complement that. Andrea Frassoni (Mother), Steve Reazor (The Old Man), and Michele Bolay (Miss Shields) take their parts and run with them…hysterically overacting when appropriate, but pulling back when needed.
The humorous scenes are many and probably very famous…Ralphie saving his family from the Desperadoes, Randy getting dressed for school, “soap poisoning”, the Old Man winning his “major award”, Miss Shields reacting to Ralphie’s theme, and the kids lining up to see Santa (where they are stellar perfect). Much of the play is a carefully choreographed dance between actors…witness the turning off and on of the “leg lamp”.
I would also like to give kudos to the Milk Man Lunch Company and Cake Shop in Pottstown. During intermission, the audience can buy, among other things, Red Ryder BB Bites, Leg Lamp Cookies, Frozen Flagpoles, and Peking House Tea Sandwiches. So go with an appetite!
I can’t think of a better way to get into the holiday spirit this season than by seeing this nostalgic show. HO, HO, HO!!!
A CHRISTMAS STORY
By Philip Grecian, Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark
Directed by Bill Kiesling
December 1-18, 2011
Tri-County Performing Arts Center (Village Productions)
245 E. High Street