December 15, 2008
‘A Christmas Story’ is a gift-wrapped memory
By Jami R. Smith
Special to the Clinton Herald
Since our economy took a nosedive, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk this Christmas season about how to spend less money and still have a happy holiday. We feel there’s a need to put more emphasis on family time spent together and creating lasting memories.
I can’t think of a better way to do exactly that than by treating your friends and family to “A Christmas Story” presented by the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre.
Patrick Stinson directs this little gem and it really is a story for everyone. It reminded me so much of the cartoons we watched as kids — fun for us but actually aimed at the adults in the room.
Although I want to strongly emphasize I was not yet born at the time of this story in the 1940s, the childhood themes contained in it are timeless. Or at least they were up until about 1973 when children began to acquire all knowledge and sophistication apparently while in the womb. But I digress.
Anyway, it was a simpler time…and as soon as you enter the Mullany Theatre at Ashford University, the wholesome spirit of the 1940s is channeled right into the lap of our jaded 21st century.
From the charming set onstage, Mother is cooking oatmeal in her tiny kitchen while father pours over the latest, greatest contest questionnaire — hoping for a winning entry. This poignant scene belies the real goofiness lying just below the surface of all our memories. But wait…there’s more.
The whole theme of this production (shameless pun intended for those who know the story) is 9-year-old Ralphie Parker’s attempt to use everything in his power to get the coveted “Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time”.
Ralphie (Michael Kremer) plots his Yule-tide manipulations through his family-saving fantasies, his homework assignment and every newspaper ad for the B-B-Gun he can get his hands on. Just when he thinks one of his subtle tactics might be on the verge of success, his hint is met with the god-awful phrase he dreads the most, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Woven throughout the basic storyline are recurring snippets of grade-school angst realities — both from the era and everyday family life.
Ralphie’s mother (played-exactly-the-way-she-should-be-and-I-mean-that-as-a-compliment by Karen Stephan from Fulton, Ill.) patiently holds down the Parker family fort. Ralphie’s little brother Randy (played impressively by Aedan Marlowe) “had not eaten voluntarily in over 3 years” and likes to hang out behind the couch or under the sink.
Their feisty father with a very colorful vocabulary (played by Rob Engelson — a longtime local favorite) is one of the best-developed characters of this tale. Either that, or Engelson makes it seem that way with an outstanding performance that is laugh-out-loud funny. I’ve never heard anyone cuss so convincingly without actually swearing!
Added to the fabric of the festivities are the local schoolyard bully (Ethan Sharp) and Ralphie’s friends, Flick (Noah Strausser) and Schwartz (Jacob Smith). Ester Jane — a pretty young schoolgirl with a crush on Ralphie (Skylar Pennock) and her friend Helen (played by Helena Fisher) round out the elementary school gang.
I was impressed with the talent of the younger members of this cast — not to mention how well they handled the physical aspects of their parts within the confines of the smallish stage.
Their fearless and demanding leader — a no-nonsense teacher with little sympathy for the lot of them — is played almost too well by Ellen Miller. I kept flashing back to my seventh grade English class at Washington Junior High School with Miss Benishek who later became Mrs. Pratt…(or was it the other way around???)
No matter. The loud falsetto voice and misguided fashion sense were surreal enough to take me right back to 1970. And that’s just the point.
The whole story is narrated and pulled together by the grown-up Ralph looking back wistfully — yet accurately — at this Christmas of his childhood. It’s all about memories and the feelings that are evoked when we reminisce about the past.
Two wonderful performances come from the main character roles. Jason Sharp, of Camanche, plays the grown-up Ralph and manages a very difficult part, juggling tons of dialogue, adding humor and insight into Ralphie’s feelings.
Michael Kremer as young materialistic Ralphie does a great job portraying a kid on a mission to bravely save his family by getting the best present ever. Kremer pulls off some pretty dicey dialogue himself and evokes a Charlie Brown type of character that never seems to quite get his way.
The artistic staff did an outstanding job on the set design and somehow they make an involved storyline work well within a very limited space. It was a difficult production to stage, but they do pull it off. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sexy leg-lamp, the hillbilly hounds and the real comedic star of the show…the Christmas turkey.
I thought I was all finished with my Christmas shopping this year. But after seeing the delightful local production of “A Christmas Story,” I think I’ll pack away the Santa socks and other soon-forgotten-gifts I bought for my granddaughter. She’ll sport a bigger Christmas smile from this hilarious story and get a real sense of her gramma’s childhood at the same time.
Attending this show together is a great way to begin creating golden memories for your family and friends too while supporting your community and the arts. The show runs through Sunday and you can reserve your tickets for each show at firstname.lastname@example.org or purchase them at Clinton Printing.
Parking is easy and close…and no stairs — which means a lot this time of year. The theater was warm and I attended on a very cold night. And the price is right, just $15 for a general admission ticket.
Now, I ask you. What $15 gift could you buy for today’s kid (or adult for that matter!) that would mean as much to them as something they would never forget?
I double-dog-dare you…NO, I triple-dog-dare you to order your tickets to “A Christmas Story” today. And then go on to have your best Christmas ever…followed by a happy and blessed New Year.