THE BASICS: A CHRISTMAS STORY, A comedy adapted by Philip Grecian, based on the motion picture “A Christmas Story” written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, Bob Clark, directed by David Bondrow, starring John Scherer, Carter Riccio, Kelly Bove, Ray Boucher, Vivienne Gaetanos, Lauren Teller, Connor Brown, Austin Leumer, Clara Pitcairn, Emerson Disch, and Mason Williams. Nov 24-Dec 10, Thurs-Sat 7:30pm, Matinees Saturdays and Sundays 2:30 (Note Saturday 11/25 matinee only after Fire Truck parade; no evening performance), Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave, Lancaster, NY 14086 (716) 683-1776 https://www.lancasteropera.org/
RUNTIME: 120 minutes with a 15 minute intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Set in Hohman, Indiana, in the 1940s, Ralph as an adult (John Scherer) narrates the story of his childhood as Ralphie Parker, himself at 9 years old (Carter Riccio), takes on the quest of getting a genuine Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. He plots to drop hints subtly to his mother, known as “Mother” (Kelly Bove), and his father, known as “The Old Man” (Ray Boucher), so his little brother, Randy (Vivienne Gaetanos) doesn’t get any ideas of wanting the same thing, therefore ruining his whole plan.
When asked what he wants for Christmas at the kitchen table Ralphie blurts it out anyway and gets the same response from Mother, as well as later in the story from his teacher, Miss Shields (Lauren Teller), and even Santa in the Higbee’s Department Store – “You’ll shoot your eye out!” The story follows Ralphie’s vibrant imagination and many nostalgic moments from the beloved motion picture like his friend and classmate, Flick (Connor Brown) getting his tongue stuck to an ice cold lamppost after a triple dog dare to try it, The Old Man winning a lamp shaped like a woman’s leg (and displaying it proudly in the window for all to see), and of course the school bully Scut Farkas (Mason Williams) who is known for twisting arms behind the other kids (mostly Flick’s) backs. Ralph as an adult narrates throughout the whole play, looking back on these moments from his childhood with almost as much fervor as when it happened to him as a kid.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
The making of the play A Christmas Story’s journey begins with Jean Shepherd’s memoir “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” about his life growing up in the midwest in the 1940’s. In 1983, the Motion Picture by Turner Entertainment Co. was created based on this book and became a beloved Christmas classic. In 2000, the story was adapted by Philip Grecian into a stage play comedy.
The play begins with one man in front of the stage in a sweater vest, which we will soon learn is Ralph as an adult, played by John Scherer. He comes out to make announcements which then takes a smooth transition into the script. Descriptions of the holiday season along with actual garland and Christmas lights along the balcony of the theater give you the warm and fuzzy feeling of the joys of the holiday season, which is now upon us.
Scherer returns to Lancaster, his hometown, to play this role after playing several roles on Broadway since 1994. Scherer’s impressive repertoire of experience shows through his performance as he doesn’t skip a beat narrating the entire play, and even assuming the voice of a couple other minor characters throughout the show – his voice interpretation of Mrs. Schwartz will have you in stitches! Throughout the play he retells the stories as if he is still child Ralphie matching his enthusiasm and disappointment to young Ralphie’s as he relives the memories.
The clever set design by David Dwyer enables Scherer to start by standing in front of the stage and then he heads up the ramp in front of the stage to head into the home which is the main set throughout the show. The ramp serves as the enter and exit point for scenes outside of the house, and lighting is used to further this creative dimension. The wings of the stage are mainly used for the front door entrance to the house and the door to the backyard. The house is cleverly angled so you can see three different rooms in the house – the kitchen, the living room and Ralphie’s bedroom.
The lights come up and soon the family is all introduced to the audience. Mother is wearing a light colored dress with a bright blue apron, bringing a pop of color to the kitchen and tying together the color of the walls in the living room, giving you a very visually appealing view of a traditional 1940’s home.
Carter Riccio really takes on the role of Young Ralphie with exceptional acting, as well as looking the part with his thick-framed glasses. He is up in his room looking through a magazine when he becomes enthralled by an advertisement for a genuine Red Ryder BB gun which is when he decides that is what he wants for Christmas. The plot mainly revolves around his desire for this gun. Despite seeming to be a timid boy in front of others, Riccio shows the many personality traits of Ralphie’s character by giving us a glimpse into his head throughout the play, through his enthusiasm for persuading the adults to let him have the gun, his cool and confident posture during his imaginary fantasies about protecting his family with the gun, and his hilarious exclamation of “Oh fudge!” when he drops the lug nuts helping The Old Man change a tire. He is a kind and thoughtful character who looks up to his father, carefully considering what to get him for Christmas, running upstairs to write down the things his father mentions.
Kelly Bove plays “Mother” with the many traditional traits of a 1940’s mother – the cook, the caretaker, the discipliner and the obedient wife. She proves to be very intelligent but she ultimately lets her husband make the decisions, and Bove does an excellent job showing this so the audience knows, without rubbing it in to “The Old Man.” The audience was especially excited about the classic moment of Mother putting soap into Ralphie’s mouth after getting into a fight at school. Stern with the boys when she needed to be but also soft and protective of them by making sure The Old Man isn’t too mad at Ralphie for getting into a fight.
The Old Man, played by Ray Boucher, is a businessman who is always trying to strike a deal or win in a competition. He wins a prize that he is so proud of winning that he can’t even see it is ugly, he is just so happy he won and he’s excited to show it off. Boucher plays this role well by showing his character’s sometimes dumb side, sometimes obnoxious side, but also his love for his wife and children. He takes a beating to the busted furnace with his golf club shouting all sorts of words that sound like expletives – sounding frustrated but not overly angry.
Miss Shields, played by Lauren Teller, is a recent graduate from SUNY Fredonia and plays a wonderful teacher who gives her students tough love, being stern, but caring. One of my favorite moments in the play was her interpretation of the Wicked Witch during one of Ralphie’s fantasies. It was nice that some of the fantasies allowed her to get out of her demure teacher kind of role and show multiple sides of her acting abilities – dramatic, funny, and sometimes evil.
Some of the other character’s notable moments include Randy, played by Vivienne Gaetanos, Ralph’s little brother, known for saying “I gotta go wee wee,” Flick played by Connor Brown who is constantly picked on and gets his tongue stuck to the ice cold lamp post, another friend and classmate, Schwartz, played by Austin Leumer, who gets blamed for teaching Ralphie an expletive similar to the word fudge – although he vehemently denies teaching him it, classmate Esther Jane Alberry, played by Clara Pitcairn, who has a very obvious and adorable crush on Ralphie, genius classmate Helen Weathers played by Emerson Disch, who has fooled the majority of scientists with her 3rd grade science project, and school bully Scut Farkas played by Mason Williams, often lit up in red showing off his wicked evil laugh.
The use of a fight director is obvious through the fighting scenes, the kid’s smooth rolls and somersaults, and realistic-enough punching and arm twisting scenes. Cutos to Steve Vaughan for his expertise in this show and the many others in the WNY region.
The use of props stays simple with repurposing the kitchen chairs to represent the car as well as the kitchen table with a chalkboard behind it to indicate the classroom. Despite a few lighting snafus, it was well done overall. Sometimes I felt some of the characters could be mic’d better as Ralphie and some of the other characters were slightly hard to hear at some points.
Starting and ending with the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with the season, whether you love the classic movie or have never seen it, A Christmas Story is sure to get you excited for the approaching holiday joy and the nostalgia will get you laughing like Saint Nicholas himself, but you will especially love it if this story is one you look back on fondly from your childhood. Don’t miss it before it’s over – A Christmas Story is up until December 10th – and get your ticket now before they’re sold out!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!
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