A Christmas Story
Presented by the Village Playhouse
Nov. 29-30, 8 p.m.
Dec. 1, 7-8, 14-15, 8 p.m.
Dec. 2, 9, 16, 3 p.m.
730 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
Every year the Christmas season starts a little earlier but it's in full swing by the day after Thanksgiving. The Village Playhouse kicks off the region's Christmas offerings with the stage version of the newly classic A Christmas Story, adapted from the much-beloved movie by Phillip Grecian.
Based on Jean Shepherd's book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, the movie did not fare well in theaters. However, thanks to the TNT channel and its 24-hour marathon showings every Christmas, the story has joined the ranks of Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol as seasonal classics.
Each year, many younger viewers are introduced for the first time to the story of Ralphie and his trials and tribulations as he strives to get his ideal Christmas present, the Red Rider BB Gun. All of the favorite scenes have been preserved, as this is a true translation with little variation from the movie. A great children's show, especially for any child who has yet to experience the movie on TV, this production is especially suited for the entire family, though anyone who dislikes the movie will not find anything to endear them to the staged version.
Tackling a classic that is so well known can be daunting, but the Village Playhouse is up to the task. Keely Enright, Village's producing director, leads the cast down a very familiar path and handles well the challenges that come with working with a group that consists largely of children.
Dave Reinwald undertakes the Herculean task of once more transforming the corner of the Playhouse into a set that supports the many different scenes and again impresses with his versatility and talent.
This being one of the few plays that was originally a movie, some moments do not translate as well no matter the skill of the design crew. The department store scene with Santa and the slide, the family driving around town, a thrown snowball — these movie moments just need to be seen in a real setting or staged with a larger budget, but as presented in the Playhouse come across as makeshift at best.
Other portions of the show work very well. The audience especially enjoys scenes that portray Ralphie's imagination. Whether Ralphie is the hero defending the family from Black Bart, leading friends out of deepest Africa, or receiving his accolades for his perfect theme paper, each of these scenes elicited laughter.
Robbie Thomas, as the grown-up Ralph describing his memories of childhood, replaces the narrator from the movie. He occasionally stumbled over lines to the point of distraction. But his voice and presence fit well and help focus the play during each memory scene.
Nolan Bateman plays the young Ralphie, the iconic boy whose desire for the BB gun defines obsession. Enright stages some nice moments where Thomas mimics the actions or stance of Bateman creating the link between the adult and his imagined youth.
Nat Jones as "The Old Man," i.e. Ralphie's dad, delivers the best performance of the evening. From his obsession with contests to his pride in his sexy leg lamp to his addiction to turkey, Jones has a good sense of comedic timing and truly seems to enjoy his role. Though he's sometimes over the top, he remains enjoyable throughout the performance.
Time will tell if the Playhouse has started a Lowcountry tradition, one to be seen year after year. It's hard not to make comparisons to the movie, and the staged version unfortunately comes up short. However, for a family seeking quality entertainment, especially if the children are just learning the story, this is a great value and a very funny show. The real test, though, is when we see Playhouse give 24 hours of back-to-back performances. Then we can be truly impressed.