Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

A Christmas Story
Albuquerque Little Theatre

Also see Sarah's review of A Christmas Carol

Welcome to a rough-yet-charming childhood winter in the pre-WWII Midwest. The story of Ralphie Parker's Christmas the year he was 9 years old is narrated by his grown-up self, Ralph (Bill Striker). The moment Striker walks on stage and begins the tale of Ralphie's formative holiday season, we know we're in good hands. He uses the folksy-but-honest words of author Jean Shepherd who first told these anecdotes in short stories that appeared in Playboy magazine during the 1960s. The play at Albuquerque Littl3 Theatre is oozing with warm nostalgia, yet it's still sharp with universal 9-year-old trials, fears and dreams.

A Christmas Story began life as a quiet movie in 1983. The film, written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark, spent just three weeks in movie houses. However, it found a home on cable TV, and now A Christmas Story goes into 24-hour rotation each year from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, drawing 50 million viewers. The whole world tunes in to find out whether Ralphie will get his dream present, a Red Ryder BB gun. All of his hopes and dreams are pegged to the gun, even though he'll probably shoot his eye out.

With the blessing of Jean Shepherd and the original movie producers, Philip Grecian adapted the film for the stage in 2000. Though I'm not a huge a fan of the movie—which emphasizes the Parker family dysfunction—I found the play very rewarding. Dad's rage is toned down, Mom's support is emphasized. The changes make the story far more refreshing. Most of all, the play showcases Ralphie's world. On the stage, the crazy dad no longer dominates. Instead we get more of Ralphie's world of wonder, raw bully challenges, and small-but-critical triumphs.

We also get a stronger dish of Jean Shepherd's beautiful words, especially coming from Bill Striker. He handles the balance of wry humor, irony, and simple Midwest honesty wonderfully. The story takes place in 1940 in northern Indiana, the area where Shepherd grew up. Ralphie faces classic childhood difficulties—trouble with a bully, the disappointment over a decoder tool that merely translates advertising, and soap-in-the-mouth horror when he slips and repeats some of the daily words that come from his potty-mouth Dad.

Through it all, Ralphie hopes and hopes he will get the Red Ryder gun for Christmas.

For anyone who thinks, "I've seen the movie a thousand times—why would I need to see the play?," trust me, the play is a genuine treat. It's sweet without being the least bit maudlin, it's rich in childhood experience without being a kids' drama. It's much like pumpkin pie—sweet with substantial flavor, classic Christmas fare.

Art Tedesco has put together a strong production. It's well cast with Michelle Smith as Mom and Stirling Morris as Dad. Stephen Miller is terrific at Ralphie. Little brother Randy is played well by Jackson ("I have to go wee-wee") Murrieta. Carolyn Hogan does a nice job as Miss Shields, the teacher. All of the kids are wonderful.

In a play adapted from a movie, you have to wonder how the visuals will play out. Movies are magically real—plays are magically artificial. ALT has pulled it off again, much like the crew did with their excellent production of The Wizard of Oz. My young daughter joined me for the show and her main concern was the pole—yes, the bitter-cold pole that some kid is suckered into licking. It's one of the highlights of the movie and, likewise, a central incident in the play. It passed my daughter's critical eye. The set is just right—plenty of detail, plenty left to the imagination.

Kudos to Colby Martin Landers for set design and to Peggy Wells for costumes. Also a nod to Brian McNamara for lighting, Erin Slimak for sound, and to stage manager Ryan Jason Cook. To all the production assistants, here's to a job well done.

A Christmas Story, directed by Art Tedesco, runs at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, through December 24. Performances run Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, and Thursday, December 15 and 22 at 8:00 pm. The closing-day show on December 24 will be a matinee-only show at 1:00 pm. General admission for adults is $22. For seniors 62 and up, $20. For students, $18. Children under 13 are $10. For reservations, call 505-242-4750, ex. 2, or purchase at the Theatre's website:

Photo: Courtney Wilgus

--Rob Spiegel

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