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A CHRISTMAS STORY at Rep theater review

– By Cate Marquis –

A boy who wants a BB gun for Christmas is the center of the hilarious A CHRISTMAS STORY, returning to the Mainstage of the Repertory Theater of St. Louis, Nov. 28 – Dec. 23.This is the non-musical stage version, directed by Seth Gordon, inspired by the 1983 sleeper hit movie comedy about memories of a1940s childhood in the snowy Midwest. Like the movie, the play is a comic child’s view of the holidays, a delightful counterweight to more sentimental holiday fare. But you do not need to have seen the movie to enjoy this delightfully silly holiday tale of childhood memories.

“You’ll put your eye out,” is the adults’ refrain to mention of the BB gun. A bully, a schoolyard dare, a goofy little brother, Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring, and that coveted Red Ryder BB air rifle fill the thoughts of young Ralphie as Christmas approaches.

The grown-up Ralph Parker (Ted Deasy) narrates on stage, chuckling as he fondly recalls this childhood in northern Indiana and a long-ago Christmas. Charlie Mathis plays 8-year-old Ralphie Parker, dreaming of a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and trying to find a way to get his parents, Mother(Laurel Casillo) and The Old Man (Brad Fraizer), to buy it for him.

Spencer Slavik plays Ralphie’s weird younger brother Randy. Ralphie’s pals are Flick (Dan J. Wolfe) and Schwartz (Rhadi Smith), and as they make their way to and from school, the trio do what they can to avoid neighborhood bully Scut Farkas (Tanner Gilbertson). At school, teacher Miss Shields (Jo Twiss) is as amazed by girl genius Helen (Gigi Koster) as her students, while pretty classmate Esther Jane (Ana McAlister) makes eyes at clueless Ralphie.

The children are a particular delight in this funny, heart-warming tale that brings back memories of any childhood – school friends, bullies, the irritating little brother, puzzling parents – while still being specifically quirky 1940s. There is as much humor from the adults as the kids but filtered through a kid’s view lens and aided by a few crazy fantasy/dream sequences. Jo Twiss is excellent as Miss Shields, warm but no-nonsense in the classroom, who becomes laugh out-loud funny in the over-the-top fantasy where Ralphie imagines her gushes over the essay he writes praising his hoped-for BB gun. Brad Frazier has a lot of the best comic material as The Old Man (a nickname for dad in earlier times).  The bombastic cursing -prone Old Man does daily battle with the Bumpas hounds (the neighbor’s dogs) and the balky furnace. Fancying himself a brain, he dreams of winning mail-in contests, filling them out over dinner of cabbage and meatloaf. When he wins a “major prize,”  the world’s ugliest lamp, he puffs up with pride while his wife is much less pleased with the prize.

Scenic designer Michael Ganio’s two-level set is perfect for the Parkers’ home, and rotates to transform into other locations – the streets, school, schoolyard -with the addition of a few props. Costumes by David Kay Mickelsen area lso perfect for the period and childhood of bulky snow suits, long knit scarves, and galoshes. And of course, there is that pink bunny suit from Ralphie’s aunt.

A CHRISTMAS STORY is pure fun, a holiday delight the family can laugh at and enjoy together, and a welcome seasonal tradition to put everyone in the holiday mood.

© Cate Marquis