Regional Reviews: St. Louis
A Christmas Story
Also see Richard's review of An Act of God
I can imagine 100 worse holiday shows than the non-musical version of A Christmas Story from the year 2000, based on the popular holiday film, live on stage this month at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. But, I also used to joke that my worst nightmare was the "Bob Dylan Christmas Album," until he actually came out with one. So I don't joke about what could be worse anymore.
It's not bad, but it adds nothing to the party. The Rep's newest Christmas show feels more like an obligation, a ready-made ritual for our consumption: the theatrical equivalent of fruitcake, or canned carols at the mall. You can't escape, and more than one bite is more than enough. Seth Gordon, who did such a brilliant job with All My Sons at the Rep nearly two years ago, directs. But maybe he's not supposed to direct something this ... mundane? Commercial? Low-aspirational? Is Mr. Gordon being punished for something? At one point in this show, the mom (delightful Laurel Casillo) bundles up her younger son in a huge scarf that seems to have been stolen from the iconic collection of beloved Artistic Director-emeritus Steven Woolf. Maybe there's a "scarf-gate" at the bottom of all of this. It can't just be a mindless theatricalization of the 1983 movie they show on a continuous loop on cable TV every year, right? There must be something more going on here, than meets the eye.
The truth of the matter is, I thought this was going to be a production of the 2009 musicalization of the movie by Joseph Robinette, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul. But it's just the straight play adapted by Philip Grecian, a very literal transfer of the movie, which was based on the stories of Jean Shepherd, onto the stage (at least technically) in three dimensions. Except, without the happy Chinese waiters at the end, singing Christmas carols over Peking Duck, and (of course) without a pack of wild dogs seizing the Christmas turkey before that, in an unguarded moment. My boyfriend keeps telling me about Franco Zeffirelli's version of Aida, where they watch an unseen procession of the famed elephants and camels, which those operatic characters see from a window above, and we (out in the audience) are left to imagine the spectacle for ourselves. So it is here: without a stolen turkey and without a Peking Duck. At least director Gordon is in good company, with Zeffirelli.
Really, there's nothing bad or wrong about it. It's just as if the Rep felt like it had to buy me something for Christmas, but they were clearly in a hurry, the store was closing, and this was the first thing they grabbed off the rack. Brad Frazier hits a note as the dad, somewhere in the range of a tempestuous Eddie Bracken, not as gruff as the movie's Darren McGavin, but perfectly valid as a character choice. Ted Deasy makes a good narrator, as the grownup Ralphie. Though, in what I can only call a moment of extreme insecurity on the part of the production, Mr. Frazier is pushed to tears, overcome in his final moment in an onstage Avalon (Hohman, Indiana), over really not so very much at all.
The kids are finethe two little girls are great, in fact: Gigi Koster as the brainiac, and Ana McAlister as the childhood sweetheart. Charlie Mathis is perfectly fine as Ralphie, the little boy at the center of it all, who just wants a BB gun for Christmas. The other boys, probably for good reasons, exist mainly as shadows in the mind. And I have to mention Jo Twiss as their elementary school teachershe's pretty darned terrific, in that old-school sort of way. And there are fun costumes by David Kay Mickelsen.
A Christmas Story, through December 23, 2018, at the Browning Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton arts building, 130 Edgar Rd., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
The Players (in speaking order):
Additional Production Credits: