Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
For the 12th time in as many years, the Ti-Ahwaga Community Players in Owego are presenting Philip Grecian’s A Christmas Story, based on the 1983 film of the same name. This stage version, with roots in the writings of Jean Shepherd, is directed by Ti-Ahwaga’s beloved Kathy Harris, who is acknowledged warmly in almost every program note from the cast. (Many of those cast members, you will discover, are related to each other in real life.)
It’s 1938 in Hohman, Indiana, and young Ralphie Parker (Camden Dyer-Decator) can think of nothing but finding a Red Ryder BB gun under the tree when he wakes up on Christmas morning. Dyer-Decator does an excellent job as the kid on the cusp of being too old to believe in Santa, but young enough to still try to use him as a back-up to get his Christmas wish.
Along the way, we meet Ralphie’s mother and dad (the “Old Man”), played by Nichole Langton and Doug Benish); his brother, Randy (Devin Cornell); his friends Flick (Thad Robertson), Schwartz (Cameron Cole) and Esther Jane (Laura Robertson), and the classroom/playground bullies, Helen Weathers (Julia Langton) and Scut Farkas.
Especially threatening is Scut (played menacingly by Brendan Cornell, Devin’s real-life brother). When he appears, the ominous bars from Peter and the Wolf leave no doubt as to his evil intent. The kids in this year’s show are all very well cast. A few times I wanted them to speak up just a bit, but knowing the story helped.
Robertson is funny as the kid who took a triple dog dare and got into trouble, and Jane Nichols as the teacher, Miss Shields, is elegant and authoritative. Perfect!
Langton and Benish do a great job as Ralphie’s traditional stay-at-home mom and working dad, complete with her meatloaf, red cabbage (yes, we got it!) and bar of soap at the ready for punitive measures, and his valiant tackling of a “clinker” of a smoky furnace. They both have great comic timing.
The adult Ralph, who narrates the play in a reminiscence of that particular Christmas, is lovingly portrayed by Jamie Cornell (Devin and Brendan’s dad). In the film version, we only hear Ralph’s voice, but seeing him, his great expressions and the tenderness he feels for his family and friends, lo these many years later, add a lot of warmth to the show that the movie didn’t have. Shepherd’s original lines are what made the story so much fun to begin with, and with most of them kept intact for the play, the story’s humor is maintained
There are very few people who have not seen the film version — it gets marathon screenings on one of the cable channels every Christmas — but I brought someone to last Sunday’s matinee (Dec. 8) who hadn’t seen the movie, so I could get her take on this staged version.
I didn’t ask her outright what she thought or expected at first, just watched her expressions. She was clearly having fun and told me later about all the people she knew who had gotten a BB gun, although maybe not the “Official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200 shot range model air rifle.”
A great cast, great set, lighting and sound effects (especially barking dogs!) add to the fun.
IF YOU GO: Performances of A Christmas Story will be at 8 p.m. today through Saturday (Dec. 12-14) and at 2 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 15) at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. Admission is $20 ($10 for kids under 12 and, on Friday only, for students with ID). If you are 60 or over, tickets on Sunday are $17 on Sunday. Call first to see if there are tickets, as they may be sold out: 687-2130. Information: www.tiahwaga.com.