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A Christmas Story

a Family Play
by Philip Grecian

COMPANY : Kudzu Playhouse [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Kudzu Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 3894

SHOWING : November 27, 2010 - December 24, 2010



Jean Shepherd’s memoir of growing up in the Midwest in the 1940’s follows 9 year old Ralphie Parker in his quest to get a genuine Red Ryder BB gun under the tree for Christmas.

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The Triple-Dawg Dare!
by Dedalus
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
(NOTE: This is a combined piece covered the Georgia Shakespeare and Kudzu Playhouse productions of this show)

I remember the first time I saw “A Christmas Story,” the 1983 cinematic sundae of a flavorful quintet of Jean Shepherd stories. I had just turned thirty, and was slipping into that awkward pre-middle-age epoch during which you’re too old to play with toys and too young to drool into a pleasant nostalgic wallow. Adulthood weighed on my shoulders like an unwelcome bucket full of debt and unwelcome body-changes, making me question the wisdom of my extended bachelorhood (which would continue for another fifteen spouse-and-spawn-free years). My skeptical nature had fully formed, and Christmastime filled me with an ambivalence built on a suspicion I didn’t have the courage of my lack-of-convictions if it meant resisting my fondness for family, friends, and presents.

Then along came this joyous little film that celebrated the kid in all of us, that confirmed that Christmastime had less to do with religion than with childhood, that the celebration of Yule was no more dependent on belief in the story’s divine roots than the celebration of fantasy was dependent on a belief in wizards.

Now, here I am, {mumble mumble} years later, a crotchety old critic who turns into a 10-year-old every time someone hums “Jingle Bells Shotgun Shells,” getting to sit in judgment of two separate and unequal theatrical mountings of the story.

“Oh sure,” I hear you say. “Compare a big-budget equity production with an about-to-end-its-life community theatre’s last gasp. How can that be fair?” To be sure, it is not. On the other hand, if Kudzu Playhouse is sadly fading into the recession-tinted sunset, it is certainly worth a wallow in pre-nostalgia, a wistful sigh and smile for the things that can be done with nothing but love a love for theater and roll of duct tape, an acknowledgement that, somehow, telling stories on a stage will somehow survive and flourish, even if the names and venues shift with the winds of financial fortune.

But, I digress.

The key to making this story work is to capture that homespun sense of Jean Shepherd sitting down in front of a warm fire (or in a friendly pub) with an old friend and a mug of eggnog, reminiscing about the idealized times of childhood. And both of these productions capture that feeling as easily as a friendly snowball fight. If Georgia Shakespeare’s adult Ralphie is better at capturing the audience’s attention, at forming a bond with us as he spins his yarn, this in no way detracts from Kudzu’s counterpart, who, though occasionally falling into a chilly “I’m just reciting to you” cadence, nevertheless captures our listening pleasure at all the key moments. This script belongs to the narrator, to how he connects with us and interacts with the cast, and any enjoyment of the play will ride on how well he does his job.

And both Parker families beautifully capture the ups and downs and trials and dreams of any-family without slavishly impersonating their movie counterparts. The irritating habits and compromised sighs and comfortable snuggles and games are all on view, all deepening the emotional heft of the story. And, for the record, both productions have found marvelous young actors to play Ralphie and Randy, and to play their friends.

Where the productions differ most is the amount of cash available for the set. Both have nicely warm Parker households that carry most of the action. At Kudzu, a small section Stage Right dresses up for other scenes and disappears when not in use. At Oglethorpe, a revolve spins the house away to reveal the classroom and an enormous Department Store Santaland set, complete with twisting slide and Meanie Elf. Both approaches work and both approaches keep the scenes flowing without those long scene changes that can be the pepper in the cookie of a holiday show. If Kudzu gets the edge for any sequence, it’s the marvelous “ballet” as Mother and the Old Man take turns switching on-and-off the beautiful-to-behold leg lamp, only because the smaller set lets them do it more often. If I could make any suggestions to Kudzu, I recommend pulling the old follow spot out for Adult Ralphie, as he seems to have some difficulty “finding his light” and delivers a few too many speeches from the “dark side” of the stage.

If I may digress before I finish, Ralphie Parker is the sort of character that reminds me of what I used to be (and often wish I still were). Like him, I wore impossible-keep-unbroken glasses from an early age. Like him, I lived in horror of brothers and bullies, and shied from the conversation of my female peers. Like him, I dreamed of the perfect Christmas present, and the perfect Christmas season. Like him, I dreaded opening gifts from my Aunt (Socks and Underwear? Thank you so much! May I have another cookie?).

Like grown-up Ralphie, I look back on those days with the filters only adulthood can mercifully give. The Christmases of my youth were always the best times of the year for me, even when they weren’t. And, if my grown-up post-faith crotchety old pseudo-self doesn’t like it, he can just pull out his well-worn “Christmas Story” DVD, pour a glass of Tempranillo, prop up his feet, snuggle with his spouse and spawn, and be reminded of what Christmastime is really all about.

Or he can go see some friends and acquaintances tell it on stage. On any stage, big or small, it doesn’t matter. He’ll remember it well and think well of those who brought it to him.

And I triple-dawg dare you to do the same!

-- Brad Rudy (



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