Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Story

The day before I went to see A Christmas Story at Boise Little Theater, I mentioned my plans to a couple of my friends at our favorite pub. They told me they'd never seen the movie. Dumbfounded, I turned to the people on my left and said, "Would you believe these two have never seen A Christmas Story?" They replied that they hadn't, either. I was thunderstruck. After all, this is the movie that TNT plays as a 24-hour marathon every year at Christmas. There are pilgrimages to the house where the movie was filmed. I personally consider it as much of a Christmas tradition as baking gingersnaps or unwrapping all of the presents on Christmas Eve.

Boise Little Theater's production does a great job of playing upon that tradition. The script for the live-action version contains some new material that expands on the movie version nicely. There are more opportunities for Ralphie's imagination to enact scenarios where he beats the bad guys with his official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time. And there's a sweet love story added between Ralphie, played admirably by Klive Hume, and one of his classmates, Esther Jane Alberry, played with great charm by Leah March.

All of the kids in the show do a remarkable job: Jaxson Thornton as Schwartz; Sean Hermansen as the unfortunate Flick, who gets his tongue stuck to a flagpole; Katherine McDonagh as the brilliant and tough Helen Weathers, Eilish McDonagh as Roxane, Conner Schow as the bully Scut Farkas; Grover Dill as Scut's toady; and Drye Gyllenskog as Ralphie's annoying, oddball, difficult-to-live-with little brother Randy.

The adults in the show do a great job of playing out both Ralphie's day-to-day life and his vivid imagination. Erin Van Engelen gets an A++++++ as Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields, who winds through his imagination as a Southern belle swept away by the power of his essay, and rapidly transforms to a witch who's in on a plot with his mother to deny him a BB gun. Mike Cronen plays the Old Man, and he does a wonderful job of switching abruptly to his normal behavior of swearing at the Bumpus hounds and the furnace and begging his wife to go shopping for Christmas turkeys to -- in Ralphie's imagination -- cowering beneath a table in fear of Black Bart and cheering with joy when Ralphie the Kid drops in to save the day. Likewise, Helene Myers, who plays Ralphie's mother, goes through her day convincing Randy to eat like a good little piggy and trying her best to keep the gaudy leg lamp out of the front window, until she's called upon by Ralphie's imagination to play an evil winged monkey or a damsel in distress.

The only thing I found disappointing in the show was how difficult it was sometimes to hear Mike Mullens, who played the adult Ralph, over some of the scene changes. Mullens had some entertaining monologues, but they sometimes got a bit drowned out by major set pieces being dragged around at the same time.

The show runs its last two days tonight and tomorrow night. Don't be like my friends from the pub. Seeing A Christmas Story is a tradition worth participating in -- and seeing it live is like finding that extra package behind the couch on Christmas morning.

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