"A Christmas Story" retold
No eyes shot out, after all
Greg Marsten | Staff writer
ST. CROIX FALLS – Few things prepare the American masses for the holiday season more than the hallowed 1983 film, “A Christmas Story.” The movie has become a cult classic, like that glossy-nosed reindeer who hopes for bad weather. It is one of the few things allowed to run over and over on TV, other than that amazing log fireplace video and campaign ads.
The Jean Shepherd penned movie of 1940s Midwestern holiday vignettes has more quotable lines than a Michele Bachmann “dump Obamacare” rally. Thankfully, the timeless story has since been adapted for the stage, and live theater has a comedy classic so perfect it doesn’t even need a special day like Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Go-Into-The-Ditch Wednesday to make people appreciate it.
For the second time in five years, the Festival Theatre Company in St. Croix Falls has wisely chosen to reproduce this classic tale for the holidays, with performances through the end of December, and it should not be missed.
Staying faithful to the script, and even using the author’s narration, performed by Festival anchor Seth Kaltwasser, the story shines like an LED wrap of lights freshly opened and waiting for an extension cord.
The cast includes plenty of young actors, and they all live up to the task with exceptional timing and diction. The production uses a well-crafted set that is part nine-box Brady Bunch intro and all wintry, delicious naivete.
All the classic lines are here, and a few of the scenes go in depth a bit more than the movie allows. Unlike cable TV anything, it is not edited for content, and the story is richer because of those added details.
Even dedicated fans of the movie will find plenty of new flavors to enjoy, from the hilarity of the lamppost licking to the inevitable “You’ll shoot your eye out!” mantra that becomes little Ralphie’s stick in his side. His quest for the Red Ryder BB gun is not unusual for kids his age, and rumor has it, that drive for a special toy/device/video game/gift card has survived into the modern era.
The cast is spot on with this production, and they obviously have great respect for the script and the timelessness of the story, as well as the endless quest for that perfect gift. Like having a favorite pair of long underwear, there is something everyone can share in this story.
While the play is an absolute gem and all-ages appropriate, it also lends the charm of a lost innocence of youth to even the Scroogiest adult. There are a few surprises for the unwashed that would even bring a surprise grin to the surliest Middle Eastern dictator and his henchmen.
If you haven’t seen the movie, it doesn’t matter. This story has the legs – or at least one rocking good “frah-geel-ee” (fragile) leg – to charm, even without the movie references. As long as you had a Midwestern childhood or a secret first crush, maybe a fear of Santa’s strict one-gift policy or a hope to be the hero in an action story, this story speaks your language with aplomb.
Short of a few softly spoken lines – you might want to sit toward the front, as young vocal cords don’t always project as far – this play is as perfect as jumper cables for a December birthday gift, lime gelatin with fruit, oil-basted turkey, prelit artificial trees, eggnog on Sundays or snow tires on a Buick.
Once again, the Festival crew has produced a gem worth spending money on and taking your family to for a present they will always remember. They have turned one of the best things on the big screen into one of the best things on the live stage. Kudos to the core crew and children, who make you forget that the young’uns not only weren’t alive when the movie came out, they are probably dealing with many of the same issues young Ralphie is trying to conquer in his Indiana childhood.
Sure, it’s cold and snowy for a few months now, but we all are fighting the same battles: frozen batteries, low bank accounts, hat hair and the like. We forget the beauty of the season, and the way the cold can make you feel alive, even if it’s painful. The magic of childhood can include the pure joy of wiping your nose on your sleeve or making a snowball so perfect it can earn a nickname, or lobbying your family and Santa for the perfect Christmas gift.
Many of us also forget the true magic of being young and excited for something so magical and youthful it defies logic, and really might shoot our eye out.
“A Christmas Story” runs through Sunday, Dec. 29, at the Festival Theatre in downtown St. Croix Falls at the 1917 Civic Auditorium. For ticket info, go to festivaltheatre.org or call 715-483-3387.
The cast of Festival Theatre’s “A Christmas Story” includes plenty of young actors, and they all live up to the task with exceptional timing and diction. Members of the “green cast” shown (not necessarily in order) are Josh Stirrat of Luck (Ralphie Parker), Sienna Shoop of St. Croix Falls (Esther Jane), Andrew Lewis of Grantsburg (Flick), Lucy Herman of St. Croix Falls (Helen), Willem Hoefler of St. Croix Falls (Randy Parker), Ella Middleton of Dresser (Schwartz) and Chris Lewis of Grantsburg (Scut Farkas). Rounding off the cast are Seth Kaltwasser (Ralph as an adult), Jaclyn June Johnson (Mother), Darrell Johnston (The Old Man) and Kimberly Braun (Miss Shields).