Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Cristmas Story"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


"A CHRISTMAS STORY"

by Philip Grecian,
based on the motion picture written by
Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark
and on the book
“In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”
by Jean Shepherd
directed by Caitlin Lowans

Ralph … Shelley Bolman
Flick … John-Michael Breen
Mother; Miss Shields … Meagan Hawkes
Randy … Henry MacLean
Scut Farkas … Danny Marchant
Schwartz; Understudy Ralphie … Nick McGrath
Helen … Emily Pinto
Old Man … Dale Place
Esther Jane … Sarah Ried
Ralphie … Ari Shaps
Understudy Randy … Sam Blumenfeld
Understudy Farkas; Flick; Schwartz … Ali Kadoura

An alternative to viewing the seasonal film classic A CHRISTMAS STORY is to see it live and onstage at the Stoneham Theatre. Philip Grecian has done a loving adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s semi-autobiographical look back at a child’s Christmas in 1940s Indiana: Ralphie once again craves an official Red Ryder air rifle, his Old Man still cusses a garbled blue streak when battling the basement furnace and the next-door bloodhounds, Mother continues to serve endless meals of meatloaf and red cabbage, and brother Randy needs to pee at inconvenient times, eats like a piggie and hides beneath or behind things. The neighborhood bully, the tongue frozen to a pole, the leg-lamp, the rabbit-pajamas, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” --- all are snugly in place. There are some trade-offs: the film’s voice-overs are now supplied onstage by an older Ralph and the child’s-eye expressionism and other camera-tricks are replaced by a proscenium’s equivalent to one long cinematic “take”; however, the distancing actually makes such sequences as the offstage bloodhounds or the Old Man and Mother battling over the leg-lamp, funnier --- what was warm-hearted realism on the screen becomes warm-hearted vaudeville, here.

As the two Ralphs, Shelley Bolman and Ari Shaps are two opposite halves of a whole --- Mr. Bolman, handsome in his Kenneth Branagh beard, declaims impressively whereas Master Shaps has the proper low-keyed solemnity (how could one have ever grown into the other?). The other children are equally delightful, being directed as small-scale adults with their own ecstasies and torments rather than as cherubs to be fawned over, especially John-Michael Breen as the sad-sack Flick, his shoulders already hunched with weltschmertz. Their youth, especially when swaddled in winter clothing, keeps these children from moving fluently about the wide Stoneham stage, especially when they must appear and disappear paralleling moments in the film but their natural drollness will keep you smiling, throughout. Meagan Hawkes’ Mother is quite the goony-bird rather than a period housewife but she gets her laughs without camping too, too much, and it’s gratifying to see Dale Place balancing his villains with good-natured grouches. Mr. Place is handsome enough to play silver-haired leading men should the need ever arise; his appeal lies in his reticence --- imagine Mr. Place as Mr. Coward’s Elyot uttering to Amanda, “You’re looking very lovely, you know, in this damned moonlight”, then sealing it with a cool but well-placed kiss….

Jenna McFarland has designed the clever, cartoon-like set with scene changes made via panels, windows and wings similar to an advent calendar coming to life (how seasonally appropriate!) though the Stoneham set crew must be more nimble and better timed with their furniture shifting: on the night I attended, Ralph's home looked as if it was repeatedly being burglarized.

"A Christmas Story" (25 November - 23 December)
STONEHAM THEATRE
395 Main Street, STONEHAM, MA
1 (781) 279-2200

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