“Merry Christmas Everybody”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Robbie Thomas and Krosby Roza, as Ralph and Ralphie

WHO WOULD THINK that so much could revolve around a BB gun?

Having never seen A Christmas Story—the play adapted from a 1983 comedy film based on the short stories of Jean Shepherd—I went expecting a children’s story about Christmas. And that’s what I got. After all, there are more kids (9) than adults (4) in the play, and the plot is based on a young boy’s hope of getting the much sought after Red Ryder rifle.

What I didn’t expect was to get a lot more than that. Such as one writer’s lucid insight into human psychology. Specifically, into how couples navigate marriage and parenthood, how kids cope (or not) with peer pressure, and how parents and children view as well as relate to each other.

Robbie Thomas as Ralph narrating

That’s a lot of material to wrap into a holiday tale. But director Keely Enright did as well of a job conveying it as the author did conceiving it. In both cases, subtle truths about human nature were laced with just the right mix of humor and compassion as to be palatable but remain honest.

One way this was achieved was by having the narrator—the main character now grown up—looking back at one special Christmas in his childhood and relaying the full context of it to the audience as the action takes place on stage.

Narrating an entire play, as opposed to just acting in it, calls for memorizing a lot more lines, and it was impressive to watch the ease with which Robbie Thomas, in the role of the elder Ralph, rolled out his detailed descriptions, numerous one-liners, and poignant reflections of the past.

This was the third production I have seen Robbie in and it was by far his most versatile role. It was also the first time I had seen him acting as an American, which he is, and the fit was excellent.

Angela White and Nat Jones

He also stepped into smaller parts. From a corner of the stage where he was narrating, he would occasionally don a coat or cap or pair of overalls and “enter” the scene as a delivery man or neighbor or passerby, and each time he did it with ease and conviction. It’s not easy to describe exactly what acting is (impersonation, inspiration, imitation, imagination, invocation?), but you know it when you see it. Like all the arts when they’re effective, it leaves a strong, wordless impression—and in this case an appreciation for the actor.

Fine performances were also put in by the parents played by Angela White and Nat Jones. She hit the mark with her simple, maternal nature and wifely tolerance, as did he with his naive determination, curmudgeonly ways (man, can he cuss), and below-the-surface tenderness. They really carried us back to the 1940s. They also revealed that the joys and plight of family life haven’t changed much, if at all, in 70 years. (I kept thinking how the story could easily be told in the twenty-first century with the latest iPod substituted for the Red Ryder.)

Nat as Old Man Parker

The role of young Ralphie was played by Krosby Roza, a home-schooled sixth-grader with a lot of stage experience under his belt. No wonder that he was so animated, articulate, and expressive. He beautifully captured the sensible and sensitive Ralphie who tirelessly plots a way to get his prize as he deals with the normal hazards of youth such as a little brother, the neighborhood bully, an unpredictable school teacher, the fawning of a girl admirer, and, of course, his parents.

A small but nice role was also played by Sierra Garland who is a College of Charleston Theatre graduate and experienced actress, but who generally works backstage at the Village Playhouse. Needless to say, she needs to get out more—on stage—because she has a wonderful sense for characterization.

I can only suppose, though, that all these actors, along with the cast of eight other kids, found their job a lot easier because of Keely Enright’s artful scenography which was complete with authentic furniture, appliances, clothes, and artifacts—including an actual Red Ryder rifle (which Ralphie imagines and hopes he will get).

Angela as Mrs. Parker

One touch I especially liked was what looked like actual newspapers from the period; and the fact that it was a different newspaper—I counted at least four—in different scenes. The headlines were great (“Shortage of Turkeys Expected This Year”) and funny (“To BB or Not to BB”), and when I asked Keely about it, she mentioned that Nat Jones, who was reading the papers in those scenes, happens to be a graphic designer who took it upon himself to create them.

It’s that kind of detail and caring that not only come across in the Village Playhouse productions but make the shows so successful.

I highly recommend you see for yourself in this production that adults as well as kids will enjoy… until December 19 when the run ends.

For more information, go to the Village Playhouse web site.

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Art by Olivia Ingle

Professional Russian tutor in Charleston SC

It is with life as it is with art: the deeper one penetrates, the broader the view.                   
~ Johann Goethe