Daniel Davey Reviews

Theatre Review: ‘A Christmas Story’ by Rocking Horse Productions at Lancaster Opera House

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The cast of “A Christmas Story” by Rocking Horse Productions at Lancaster Opera House.

What is it about “A Christmas Story.”  There’s no sweet holiday message, no fa-la-la, no chestnuts roasting.  Fact is, there’s a good amount of humbug. There’s the hapless Ralphie and his dysfunctional family, the bully, the fact that Santa has an un-jolly disposition, and that the theme is predicated on one lad’s desire to get what he wants for Christmas rather than any kind of higher notions of good will toward men, or women, or kids.  

. . . a play, a story, and a night out for the whole brood willing to disregard that “thing that tells time.  

But this story endures every holiday season.  The movie has marathon runs on cable television.  There’s that familiar stripper-like leg lamp, that tongue stuck to a frozen light pole, and that “official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and the thing that tells time.”    And there’s that notion that the Christmas holiday season, even for a kid, may not be all fun and games, even if nobody puts an eye out.

With such a continuing legacy, it’s no surprise that Rocking Horse Productions brings “A Christmas Story” to the Lancaster Opera House stage.  Because even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’re probably aware of it and some of its imagery. And Rocking Horse doesn’t seem to have skipped over much of it.  At about two and a half hours it seems nothing has been left out.

Like the movie and book, the play is narrated by an adult Ralphie, retelling for us the events and his thoughts and feelings of a particular Christmas in 1950s Indiana in which his only wish was to get a bb-gun for Christmas.  Adult Ralphie, Ralph Parker, the narrator, is played by Chuck Both who, being on stage narrating or in supporting bit roles for nearly the entire production, does well with the massive amount of lines he has. A feast of words.  That’s not to say that a missed cue here and there, and one or two false starts with a line now and then, were not there, but no one’s eye was put out because of it, and his overall performance was robust and delivered with enough force that a man might use in retelling some of the most frustrating parts of his youth.  Relatively new to being on stage, Both’s presence is both the foundation of the story and a gift to it. One that should only get better with time.

The kids were no delinquents either.  Ralphie (Joey Bielecki) and his friends were all charming in their roles, and often seemed like they were having fun, especially when they made their way across the stage in a bone chilling Indiana winter blizzard.   All of the kids in the production did relatively well, and both of the parts of Ralphie’s female classmates, Ester Jane (Tiffany Nowak) and Helen (Isabella Bindermann) were standouts. Having played in LOH’s production of Annie, the two young actresses brought an age-appropriate maturity that contrasted perfectly with the rough-around-the-edge antics of the young male roles.  

The adults weren’t without certain antics.  Most notably was Marc Ruffino in the part of the father, Ralphie’s “Old Man”.  Ruffino is enthusiastic, playing the zealous king of the Parker domain, who is both enforcer and blissfully oblivious to his own follies.  Ruffino’s Old Man plays up his father-knows-best persona and child-like wonder, making us believe he’s not the tyrant whose wrath Ralphie fears.  

But adults are a mystery to young Ralphie, and he consistently misreads them.  Including his teacher, Miss Shields, played wonderfully by award-winning actress, Katie Buckler, and his mother, played by Katherine Parker.

What it is about “A Christmas Story” at Lancaster Opera House is the narrator, adult Ralphie, appearing in the glow of light at stage left and stage right, above stage, and in the Parker kitchen, telling us about his recollection of this sequence of events — one Christmas point in time.  He is the driving force of this show. The story plays in, and in front of, the Parker house, which never leaves center stage. Scene changes are small vignettes at the front of the stage, where the actors engage the audience more directly. Overall the set and lighting was well thought out and executed, although one of the kitchen walls on stage left blocked some of the action from the view of patrons sitting house right.

Like the film and book, this production may bring some adults to retrospective moments of their own youthful Christmas’ past, and children and kids to their own funny and frustrating present.  Because this story had moments where the kids in attendance cheered for Ralphie, and laughed at the adults. So did the adults. And for that reason it can be said that “A Christmas Story” is a play, a story, and a night out for the whole brood willing to disregard that “thing that tells time.”  

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

“A Christmas Story” runs until December 9, 2018, is produced by Rocking Horse Productions and is presented at Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.