In review

A Christmas Story In Review

by Bill Burgua

You have seen the movie maybe a zillion times, so you might ask why would someone go see a live play of something you know so well and or you can’t imagine being improved on.

No matter how beloved, a story takes on a whole new dimension live on stage, and WICA’s 2014 Holiday production A Christmas Story bears this out. Having had the pleasure to see two shows opening weekend, where kids too young to know what the heck the pre smart phone world was like, were still cracking up at the antics of the Parker family of 1950’s Holman Indiana—along with their family and friends. Please don’t think you have to part of a family to enjoy this timeless tale, done so well here. We all can find humor in Ralphie Wesley Parker’s quest for armament, the BB gun that will “shoot his eye out!”

Phil Jordan as the grown up Ralph (and a few other classic characters) tells us the story of Ralphie’s childhood Christmas with the casual elegance of a master storyteller who really could be talking about his own life. He masterfully sucks the audience into the story only to set them up for a big laugh.  He has us totally empathizing with the indignities Ralphie suffers.

Hillel Coates (Ralphie)

Hillel Coates (Ralphie)

Sixth grader Hillel Coates demonstrated his acting experience performing the role of Ralphie Parker with aplomb. He does a good job of going back and forth as the Ralphie described by his older self, to being the Ralphie speaking and interacting with other characters. A much more difficult task on stage than in edited film.

Newcomer to the stage Kristen Carlson is a wonderful surprise. Her Mother so finely walks the line between the wonderful all-knowing all-wise mother and the totally ditzy mother—to great heart and hilarity. She performed this role like she had been this family’s mother her whole life. If Carlson keeps performing like this we hope to see her on stage a lot in the future.

Robert W. Prosch performance as The Old Man is a testament to how much fun it can be for an audience when an actor is having great fun with a role. The multi and very talented Prosch goes easily from the expletive spewing nut (Note: no real expletive were spewed in this production) to the wise loving father and husband. Prosch and Carlson have great chemistry as the heads of their young Parker household.

Younger brother Randy is a big scene stealer in the film A Christmas Story and so is fourth grader Waylan Parsell’s Randy here. Much of the character’s humor is physical and Parsell literally jumps in with both hands!

After seeing Patricia Duff’s performance you will never see the prim, proper, matron school teacher Miss Shields the same way ever again. Duff’s Miss Shields and Jim Castaneda’s Department Store Santa create such a distraction at one point that the audience never notices a set change.

Then there are all the kids that play humorist Jean Shepherd’s memorable cast of supporting characters.  These talented local kids appear to have been supported by family and friends, the schools they attend, and wonderful institutions such as WICA, WCT, and WIDT. They turn out wonderful performances while having great fun, and I would venture learning a lot of life’s lessons along the way.

Director Deana Duncan takes all this talent and whips up a delightful slice of life in the days leading up to Christmas in a small town in Indiana over half a century ago.  Duncan keeps the action moving along making use of all the spaces of the Michael Nutt Main Stage, slowing nicely where the audience can absorb the timeless personal interactions of the characters.

A shout out to WICA’s creative team members that have created the bitter cold Indiana winter on the outside to the warm (as long as the furnace is working) and heartwarming Parker family home.

WICA has made it easy for audience members to actually be part of several scenes in A Christmas Story! The kids of all ages had fun in joining in with items from their audience participation Christmas Bag: fighting off bad guys with water pistols; joining in a snowball fight; and donning rabbit ears when Ralphie suffers the humiliation of wearing his Aunt’s pink bunny suit Christmas present. Participation bags are available in the lobby; the rabbit ears are worth the price alone.

It’s all there, the dogs, the turkey, the Peking Duck Christmas dinner, and especially all of Ralphie’s long thwarted quest for the best Christmas present ever, and an important step in growing up and growing to be the Ralph that remembers it all for us forever.

The magic of the theatre, especially when a good story is well told, is that it can transport us to a different time and place. By the end of WICA’s 2014 A Christmas Story you will feel like you are part of the families down on Cleveland Street, Christmas in 1950s Holman, Indiana!

About Bill

Bill Burgua after retiring from a career in biomedical research was encouraged by a founder to write as a journalist for an online hyper-local newspaper, first writing opinion pieces on local issues restricted to the six county region surrounding Sacramento California.

When Sacramento Theatre Company, the city’s oldest professional theatre company, asked that their productions be reviewed, the staff being aware of Bill’s nearly 50 years of heavy theatre attendance worldwide, made him the unofficial official theatre reviewer. He then wrote more than 100 in-depth reviews starting with the four Equity (professional) theatre companies; then adding live lectures (fave: John Waters, Thomas McGuane); pre-lecture interviews (Thomas McGuane, Terry McMillan); comedy (David Sedaris, Sarah Silverman); and food, centered around what has become the incredible “Farm to Fork” movement in northern California.

Bill also loves to travel. “How else do you get to see live theatre unless you travel there?” After a holiday week on Whidbey, Bill will be embarking on a winter ski adventure with his companion Lady, an Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Heeler.