Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on radio humorist Jean Shepherd's endearing yet humorous stories of growing up in Indiana in the 1940s, A Christmas Story is a funny, nostalgic look at the holidays and simple family life in a small town. This warm-hearted play, like the film, follows the story of young Ralphie and his relentless struggle through a series of disappointments to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, even though he is continually told that if he does, he'll shoot his eye out. Shepherd's stories also portray the dilemmas faced by Ralphie's family, which is a traditional middle-class family of four who all have struggles of their own.
Philip Grecian's adaptation follows the plot of the film fairly closely and includes many of the iconic vignettes and familiar phrases from the movie, though it omits a few scenes and adds more narration plus some small, supporting characters. The similarities make the play a memorable rehash of the movie, but with the small changes it's also a fresh and fun theatrical endeavor for fans of the film and a touching and sweet story for those who've never seen the movie.
Director Rick Davis derives natural, comical performances from his cast and does a fairly good job of staging the play on the small Desert Stages Actor's Café space. A theatre production always requires you to suspend disbelief, and this play has numerous fantasy sequences and several short scenes set outside the Parker family home. So the fact that the only set is of the inside of the Parker house and by just moving a few furniture pieces around, Davis is able to quickly create the teacher's desk in Ralphie's schoolroom and the family car, an adequate and creative staging is provided in the small space. Davis also uses several fun sound effects to portray a few funny moments in the show and Mickey Courtney's costumes are very good period representations.
Scot Claus is excellent as the older Ralph, who serves as the narrator of the play. Claus has an excellent line delivery that infuses the character with charm and nostalgia. His Ralph is a completely endearing and heartwarming man who, through his well thought out narration, we see clearly has a warm fondness for his past. Owen Brady is good as the younger version of the main character, Ralphie. He exhibits the right level of exuberance to portray the desperation, determination and desire Ralphie has for the Red Ryder gun as well as the nonstop pained expressions when he is faced with the many setbacks.
As Ralphie's parents, Peter Cunniff and Wendy Claus deliver humorous, realistic and engaging performances of a lovable couple. Cunniff is a taut ball of raw nerves and endless frustration but also a kind and caring parent, while Wendy Claus is full of warmth and calm as the voice of reason and the always steady member of the family. Ronin Feldman is absolutely adorable as the youngest son Randy, and Stephanie Vlasich is bright and charming as Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields. Luke Chakmakian, Xander Zeeb, Grace Allen, Ava Sandifer, and Bear Golden play the kids in Ralphie's school and all do well, especially Golden as the school bully and Chakmakian as Flick.
A Christmas Story is a beloved Christmas comedy classic film, and the stage adaptation fortunately doesn't sanitize any of the PG-13 moments in the movie or the warmth of the love of the family at the center of the story. We all have experience in dealing with obstacles in order to survive the holiday season, and the humorous moments in the story and tightness of the family at the center of the play make it a touching and highly identifiable story. The Desert Stages production has a good cast and direction and makes for a poignant and funny tale that's full of nostalgia and humor.
A Christmas Story, through December 23rd, 2018, at Desert Stages Theatre, Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. For information, call 480-483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.
Director: Rick Davis