Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
A Christmas Story
Also see David's review of A Christmas Carol
That special time around Christmas is the subject of A Christmas Story. The play by Philip Grecian is based on the motion picture written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark. Yes, this is the same story that played with great success in movie theaters around the country several years ago. Cleveland claims A Christmas Story as its own because the exteriors of the movie were shot in Cleveland.
Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas. He launches an all-out campaign to convince his parents the BB gun will be safe. His mother, his teacher and other adults in his life respond to his wish for a BB gun with: "You'll shoot your eye out."
The script is episodic in style with the dream of the BB gun as the over-arching plotline that keeps the action moving. In addition to wanting the BB gun, Ralphie has to deal with the neighborhood bully, a potential girl friend, teachers and assignments, and, of course, parents and a little brother. Ralphie has enough adults in his life to fuel conflicts to fill an evening in the theater.
Ralphie at one point orders a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. When the ring arrives, Ralphie listens to the radio, writes down the secret code and then decodes the message. That message is "Drink Ovaltine." What a disappointment.
Ralphie's Mother (Elizabeth Ann Townsend) has a bubbly style and limited cooking abilities. Every family meal is the same: meatloaf and cabbage. Ralphie's father, also known as The Old Man (Charles Kartali), enters contests. He hopes to win the great prize that will make the family wealthy or at least not ordinary. He wins an important prize, which arrives in a big wooden box: a lamp with a base that is a realistic woman's leg wearing fish-net stocking; the foot is posed provocatively in a high-heeled shoe. The Old Man is pleased; Mother is not.
The adult Ralph (Christopher Burns) narrates the story. The play, then, becomes a memory play (perhaps what Tennessee Williams would have written if he'd had a happy childhood). The playwrights keep the focus on Ralphie and the pains he suffers at the hands of his teacher, the local bully, his little brother and his parents. Basically, Ralphie has a happy life. That's what makes the story such a success with the pre-teen crowd. The children flock to this production, parents in tow. Seth Gordon (director) has created a production with gentle humor that holds a magnifying class up to the frustrations of being a little kid.
This production is satisfying to children and adults. The Cleveland Play House has wrapped up a beautiful Christmas present for all of us to enjoy. We wish life could be this satisfying all year long.
Bolton Theatre in The Cleveland Play House
- David Ritchey