Photograph by Eric Chazankin
EYES INTACT: John David Vozaitis is Ralphie Parker at Sixth Street Playhouse.
'A Christmas Story' as fun as the film
By David Templeton
The genius of Bob Clark's beloved 1983 holiday comedy A Christmas Story is largely of tone, a blend of warm nostalgia and razor-sharp observational honesty. With a story constructed from the writings of Jean Shepherd, the film's best element—Shepherd's voiceover narration—successfully uses the author's distinctive voice, mirroring the same determination, wonder, enthusiasm, horror and amazement of his 10-year-old younger self.
And poor 10-year-old Ralphie goes through a lot in his Christmas-season quest for a Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle BB gun. As Christmas draws closer, Ralphie must square off against a parade of bullies, teachers, parents and department-store Santas, all eager to warn the would-be sharpshooter that he'll shoot his eye out.
In Sixth Street Playhouse's stage adaptation, the same type of funny but wicked magic inherent in the film occurs. This is due largely to the clever staging and skillful comic pacing of director Bronwen Shears, but also to the cast, playing characters from the 1930s without the usual modern-day speech cadences to spoil the illusion.
Best is Mark Bradbury as the grownup Ralph, narrating the shenanigans with his own affably enthusiastic variation on Shepherd's caught-up-in-the-action storytelling.
The stage adaptation by Philip Grecian streamlines the plot, constructing a less tangential storyline than in the movie. As Ralph relives the best Christmas of his life, he wanders through his childhood home (great set by Paul Gilger), interpreting the antics of his firm but loving mother (Kim Williams), his dad, aka "the Old Man" (Chris Schloemp), and his odd little brother, Randy (Ari Vozaitis). His younger self is played with great comic timing by John David Vozaitis, and much of this production's warmhearted pleasure is watching his Ralphie connive his way through a mounting stream of obstacles.
Fans of the movie will find all of their favorite moments recreated, from the kid with his tongue stuck to the flagpole (hilarious!) all the way to Ralphie's Christmas Eve appearance in a fluffy, pink bunny suit (costumes by Pamela Enz). There is plenty that's familiar here, but much that is fresh and new, all blending together like the perfect Christmas dinner, as Ralph/Ralphie's favorite Christmas memory draws to an expected but thrillingly satisfying conclusion.
'A Christmas Story' runs Thursday–Sunday through Dec. 23 at the Sixth Street Playhouse. 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. Additional 2pm matinees on Nov. 26 and Dec. 17. One Wednesday show, Dec. 21, at 8pm. $15–$32. 707.523.4185.
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