Theatre on the Square deserves credit for taking on the venerable “A Christmas Story” that possibly every man, woman and child in the U.S. has seen at least once since the film was released in 1983, and presenting it on stage. The play, which opened on Nov. 27, continues through Dec. 20 at the TOT theatre, which is located on Mass Ave. in downtown Indianapolis. Examiner.com finally got around to seeing it Friday.
The film has become a holiday classic and has shown numerous times in marathons during the Christmas season since 1997 on the TNT and TBS networks owned by Turner Broadcasting. Based on the short stories of Jean Shepherd, “A Christmas Story” is set in fictional Hohman, Indiana and tells the story of Ralphie Parker, whose only Christmas wish is to receive a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-hundred shot Range Model air rifle. The comedy also centers on his close-knit family, which consists of his doting mother, Mrs. Parker, his hapless father, Mr. Parker aka “The Old Man,” and his whiny little brother, Randy.
The TOTS’ version directed by Lori Raffel has most of what’s in the film in it including such iconic scenes as The Old Man’s “major award, his never ending struggle with the family’s malfunctioning furnace and his constant battle with dogs belong to the hillbilly’s next door.” There’s also the scene where Ralphie gets his mouth washed out with soap for swearing and of course the one in which Ralphie’s friend Flick gets his tongue stuck on a frozen pole and has to be rescued.
The cast features Jim Mattera as the adult Ralph, who is also the play’s narrator; Laura Baltz as Ralphie’s mother; Darrin Gowan as “The Old Man”; and Elle Kramer as Randy.
The production suffered from uneven acting and some characters were more believable than others. However, this writer was able to overlook flaws in this community theatre effort due to the fact that the performers, many of them young and appealing, conveyed sincerity and commitment.
A clear standout in the acting department, however, was Cindy Phillips as Ralphie’s Warren G. Harding Elementary School teacher Mrs. Shields. Phillips also played a witch in one of Ralphie’s daydreams. Her striking performances added polish to a production in short supply.
Speaking of polish, it was obvious from the inferior quality of the set that the production had limited resources, no doubt owing to a tight budget. Also serving as a distraction were furniture pieces and some costumes that did not fit the early 40s during which Shepherd’s story takes place.
Even though it had its drawbacks, the production still managed to captivate. One thing was evident for this writer and that was the pure enjoyment experienced by the many children present as they watched the show. One in particular was a toddler sitting on his father’s lap, across the aisle from this reviewer. It was clear that the little boy was completely mesmerized throughout the entire play. Definitely a family friendly activity, TOTS’ “A Christmas Story” may not be as slick as the film but it nevertheless manages to do justice to its spirit, entertain and uplift.