From the first time I saw Jean Shepherd’s affectionate childhood reflections in his 1983 motion picture, “A Christmas Story,” I have been a fan of this warm and utterly delightful tale of an Indiana family at holiday time. Set in the early 1950’s, I confess the story closely parallels my own suburban boyhood dreams of Santa bringing me a Red Ryder B-B gun. My dream had a happy ending, but no happier than this very cheerful Crighton Players production of Philip Grecian’s play of the same name, based on the film, played out on the exquisite tri-level house interior set (designer, Philip Groeshel, lighting by Justin Woods), and superbly directed by Don Hampton.
Presiding over a stellar cast is well-known local humorist and columnist, Mark Hayter. How wonderful to discover that Mr. Hayter is every bit as funny in person as he is on the printed page. As the adult Ralph, he is ever on stage while narrating this story of his own boyhood and the Christmastime quest for a Red Ryder rifle of his own. He does it with such flawless delivery and wit; it would work on any stage. I wish I could take him and the fine cast to The Big Apple with me when I head north in a few days.
And let’s talk about that cast. Zack Tavlin gives us such a delicious performance as young Ralphie, that it reminds me of the whimsical young boy in Woody Allen’s comedy, “Radio Days.” Connor Heimsath is a riot as Ralphie’s whiny and bladder-plagued younger brother, Randy. John Heimsath is hilarious as Ralphie’s contest-entering Dad who wins “a major award,” and just can’t wait for the holiday turkey dinner. When things don’t go well at home, his riotous tirades are great fun, but actress, Sharon Grindel, creates the perfect understanding wife who tenderly keeps him happy while skillfully keeping peace in the family.
The talented cast of youngsters playing Ralphie’s schoolmates and friends performed with convincing naturalness and included Grant Kern, Joshua Hundl, Jeremy Prescott, Logan Siple, Connor Shay Carnahan, Victoria Amyx, and Adrien Wohlschlaeger, with Hayes Clement as the pesky school bully, and sweet Libbie Turner as the delightfully coy and flirtatious Ester Jane, who only has eyes for Ralphie. Jenny Tracey turns in a very nice performance as the teacher, Mrs. Shields, while Charice Prescott, Angeia Wohlschlaeger, and Kim Hundl round out a fine supporting cast, with everyone beautifully costumed by Lynn Peverill.
With its childhood dreams, youthful mischief, Christmas anticipation, classroom problems, family disputes, clever fantasy sequences, visits to Santa Claus, and the schoolyard pranks and brawls, the show is perfect family fare for the holidays. And if you grew up in the simpler times of the 1950’s, you are really in for a treat you will identify with. In my opinion, these theatre tickets would make perfect Christmas gifts!
“A Christmas Story” plays at 8 pm Dec. 10-11 and 17-18 with a 2 pm matinee on Dec. 12. For Crighton tickets and information, call 936-441-7469.
(The Courier 12.8.04)
(The Villager 12.9.04)