Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wetumpka Depot: "A Christmas Story"

"You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" -- Everyone from his Mother, to his teacher, to schoolyard friends, and yes -- even to Santa Claus, has this rejoinder to Ralphie's passionate request for a BB-gun at Christmas: not an ordinary BB-gun, but a "Red Ryder carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time". Sound familiar?

Jean Shepherd's story, made into a popular film in 1983 and a stage version by Philip Grecian in 2000, is now on stage at the Wetumpka Depot, directed by Kristy Meanor. A Christmas Story has become a staple for the Christmas Season, appealing to audiences with its nostalgia for a simpler time and its cast of characters who live out the reminiscences of an adult Ralph fondly remembering his childhood.

Except for Lee Bridges who plays the grown up Ralph, the Depot has two sets of actors playing alternately the other 10 named roles and 5 ensemble members. And it is he who holds the production together, serving as narrator, commentator, and occasional participant in minor roles throughout the two hour evening's entertainment. -- Mr. Bridges is an excellent guide through the telling of his childhood self's quest for the aforementioned BB-gun, and he delivers his lines with a wry sense of humor in his assessments both of himself and of his family, schoolmates, teacher, and the local bully; even the unseen Santa and next door neighbors, the Bumpus family and their 785 dogs who target Ralphie's father -- the "Old Man" -- yet bother no one else.

Yes, they're all there (in Cast A on opening night): Mother [Samantha Inman] who in Ralph's memory serves meat loaf and red cabbage every dinnertime, has a wealth of knowledge of trivia, and who can be stubborn and protective of her children when it matters most; younger brother Randy [Clay Edwards] who plays with his food, hides in unlikely places, and "has to go wee-wee" at the most inconvenient times; and, of course the "Old Man" [Brad Sinclair] an inept household handyman whose "vast catalogue of invective" is demonstrated frequently with cleverly disguised would-be obscenities, and is obsessed with mail-in contests and thrilled to win "a major prize" -- a garish leg lamp.

There's Miss Shields [Susan Montgomery], the disciplinary teacher; school friends Schwartz [Adien (sp?) Glass] and Flick [Jackson Moscona] whose tongue gets frozen to a flagpole when he is triple-dog-dared to do so; and the town bully Scut Farcus [Jackson Dean], who will get his deserved comeuppance at the hands of Ralphie; and brainy Helen [Zoe Zink] and flirty Esther Jane [Abigail Roark].

Noah Henninger plays Ralphie. This young actor turns in an effective characterization that shows Ralphie's frustrations with every thwarted attempt to get the BB-gun as his one and only wished for Christmas present. He shines especially in Ralphie's frequent fantasies where he defends his family from desperadoes, or melodramatically pretends to be blind, or anticipates a rapturous response to his teacher's writing assignment, or expects Santa to grant his wish. -- Ralphie is persistent, and it ultimately pays off. Well done, Mr. Henninger.

There are a lot of laughs in store for the Depot's audiences here; and yet, there is an important message as well. While we reminisce with the grown up Ralph about a gentler time, we also get caught up in the familiar domestic catastrophes and can identify with most any of the cast of characters. Perhaps it is good to remember that we get through these things because "we have each other and love" -- Not a bad message for the Christmas Season.