The Children’s Theatre Company is among the first to roll out this year’s holiday offering with an adaptation by Philip Grecian A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd. Grecian, with director Peter Broshius (also CTC’s artistic director) steeps us in the story’s setting with a period look, done on a very functional revolving set, costumed in Depression-era attire, and spouting dialogue that just couldn’t have made it past the 1940’s.
The entire show is narrated by the protagonist, Ralphie, as a grown-up (Bradley Greenwald), who provides a running commentary on what’s going on inside Ralphie’s head. The device works pretty well, particularly when the adult Ralph is all but participating in the action at hand. All good fun, and a reminder that Ralphie will, indeed, make it out of this predicament, too.
The story, as you may know, is driven by Ralphie’s all-consuming desire for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, which he is repeatedly told he shouldn’t have because he’ll shoot his eye out. Perfectly normal, well-adjusted parents said things like that to kids back then. One would think that a semi-dangerous request, like a gun (even if it is just an air gun) would certainly grab the attention of a young audience, and for the most part it did. But not entirely.
With its over-the-top acting style and simple-minded adults, it’s not geared for adults, but it has the look and feel of a Laurel and Hardy vintage movie, which clearly suited the era (carried out with consistency and fine attention to detail) but it was pretty much lost on the kids. Kids just don’t care much about that.
Their sensibilities are so far removed from the experiences of the kids in the show. (Would their dad shout with joyful anticipation about going to the store to get a turkey?) They laughed, but not uproariously; they applauded, but did not leap to their feet. At a good kids’ comedy, you can’t keep kids in their seats at all.
I know that Autumn Ness (Mother and Miss Shields) and Gerald Drake (the Old Man) are CTC regulars and highly skilled, but the almost bizarrely broad acting style and shouting lines at each other made it impossible to notice much else – like the story.
The children, however, were pretty darned cute, in spite of the acting style of the show. Someday, when a director lets Taylor Scott Leighton (Ralphie Parker) just follow his better instincts, he’s going to be amazing. Kimberly Hatlestad was a charmer as Ralphie’s school-boy crush, Esther Jane; Annie Share was a convincing Helen Weathers, the class “brain;”Alec Fisher and Charlie Lincoln as Ralphie’s brothers, Randy and Flick, didn’t miss a beat; and Chaos Bebault (reminiscent of one of the lost boys in Pinocchio) as Scut Farkus, the town bully, was full of lanky, false bravado. Austin Fisher (Schwartz) is clearly a very talented guy, too, but at 16 he is just too old to play this part. Rather than convince us that he was younger, the gravelly falsetto voice only made him hard to understand.
If, however, you loved the 1983 movie, and you’re looking for a feel-good, family-friendly holiday outing, you can book this one with confidence. It’s probably most appropriate for grade-school ages. The Christmas Story runs through December 31.