We double-dog dare you to see ‘A Christmas Story’

December 18, 2014

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VIDEO.

A review by Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — Jean Sheperd’s classic tale “A Christmas Story” is being presented this weekend on the stage by West Shore Community College and the Lakeshore Civic Players on the Ludington Area Center for the Arts.

For those who lived in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the film adaption of this story was hard to miss during the holidays. Directed by Chris Plummer, it is a story about 9-year-old Ralphie Parker and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, only to be told by his mother, teacher and Santa Claus that he’ll “poke his eye out.” Based in a fictional town in northwestern Indiana in the late 1930s or early 1940s, the play is narrated by the adult Ralphie, played by Phil Gigante. Phil is a professional voice actor who has appeared in several area films and stage productions. 

christmas_story_wscc_009Playing the part of 9-year-old Ralphie is Phil’s son, Ryland Gigante, who most recently performed in the Mason County Central Drama Club production of “The King and I” as the crowned prince.

The father and son team mingle well together. Phil’s character — unlike in the movie — is physically present throughout the film and, while invisible to the other characters, interacts with and responds to the events that are happening on stage. Before seeing the play I had wondered how the role of the narrator would be handled. Though the play is about little Ralphie, the narrator is most definately the lead character.

Most of the play centers around life at the Parker house, which includes Ralphie, his little brother, Randy (played by Ian Van Houten), his mother (played by Sara Brown) and his father — “the Old Man” (played by Rick Plummer).

The role of Randy doesn’t have much speaking, except when he expresses his need to go “pee pee” and also when he shows his excitement to see Santa Claus at the department store — only to end up sitting on the big elf’s lap and wet himself. Ian does a convincing job playign the quirky little brother who likes to sit underneath the sink and the bed. 

Rick Plummer, director of the WSCC performing arts (and husband of the play’s director) may find himself type-casted as the “Old Man.” I can’t really think of anyone else who could have pulled the part off as well. He executes each classic scene — the tire change; the leg lamp; the never ending battle with the malfunctioning furnace that cause him to swear quite often, including one profanity-laden rant that the adult Ralphie says “is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.

There is a considerable real-life age difference between Rick and Sara, however, their talented acting along with the masterful costuming of Susan Barnard makes them a perfect on-stage husband and wife. 

Ryland does a convincing job of playing the innocent Ralphie with a vivid imagination. At times (and this could be the accostics in the auditorium), I found it hard to hear all his lines. Having seen the movie several dozen times, I pretty much knew the lines by heart, which helped. Nonetheless, he plays a convincing Ralphie. His best moment was when he did shoot his eye out after “The Old Man” gets him the BB gun for Christmas. 

christmas_story_wscc_008Kathy Hansen plays Ralphie’s teacher, Mrs. Shields. Kathy was this writer’s high school English teacher. Yes, she was perfect for the role! A great moment in the play is when Ralphie imagines his teacher and his mother plotting together to prevent him from getting the BB gun. Both Kathy and Sara play straight-laced characters through the play, with the exception of this scene. I found it to be pretty funny.

Ralphie’s friends, Flick and Schwartz, are played by Joshua Huizenga and Kaden Powers. Though they don’t get as much on-stage time as the characters do in the movie, they are great at playing the kids who are tormented by the neighborhood bully, Scut Farcus (Kyler McQuesten). The classic scene — when Flick’s tongue is frozen to the flag pole after he is doubled dog dared by Schwartz — is true to “A Christmas Story” and well done. Kyler, as the yellow-eyed bully, even had me worried I was going to get snow smeared in my face.

Cody Hodges, who is probably one of the most funny and versitile local actors, plays a variety of roles in the play. At no time did it bother me that the parts were played by the same person. Rounding out the cast are Ralphie’s schoolmates Esther Jane, Helen, Lucille, and Harriet, played by Claire Sargent, Kat Catron, Molly Shay, and Amelia Van Wyck.

The entire play happens on a set that requires very little scene changes. The set was designed by Marty Cupp, who is responsible for many of the sets of local plays. Marty once again out-did herself. The set also included Depression-era appliances and Christmas decore.

Emily Hartrum is the stage manager, Amanda Collene is the lighting designer, Alex Wolkow is the sound designer and Mike Mikula and Rick Plummer are the scene designers.

I found this production to be refreshing and simple. It is a great combination of seasoned local actors and fresh new talent. It is also the perfect way to spend the weekend before Christmas.

“A Christmas Story” will run Thursday through Saturday, December 18-20, at 7:30 p.m., and Sun., Dec. 21, at 2 p.m.  All performances are at the Ludington Area Center for the Arts newly refurbished Performance Hall.

Tickets for “A Christmas Story” are available online at www.westshore.edu, or by calling the WSCC box office at 843-5507.

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