Holiday crowdpleasers are a necessary evil in the industry of community theatre. They offer large casts, are easy to produce, and, most importantly, they help prevent box office atrophy during the chillier months when potential patrons would ordinarily prefer to stay home. With nearby performances elsewhere of A Christmas Carol, The Santaland Diaries, and The Nutcracker, Four County Players’ production of A Christmas Story seems, by process of elimination, inevitable.
In A Christmas Story, our protagonist is Ralphie Parker (you probably already knew this; However, through some unintentional, lifelong process, the film version of A Christmas Story remains unseen by this reviewer), played here as an adult narrator by Robert Ryland. Ralphie’s parents, embodied by the expressive Bill Smith and a treacly Kristin Rabourdin, are earnest and struggling. How working-class parents can manage the Santa-sized expectations of their children is at the heart of the story. The furnace spews smoke, the car is a lumbering lemon, and a turkey on the dinner table is indicative of status in the world.
The adults in the cast are apt. As the grown-up Ralphie, Ryland is articulate and handsome, but seems to drift from affable nostalgia to episodes of ham-fisted mugging as the evening progresses. Aside from Smith and Rabourdin, the only other adult in the lineup is Mary Cox as Miss Shields, the frustrated English teacher. All give their roles a proper go, though—and it might be intentional—histrionics abound and the effect wears thin at times.
The real highlight, though, is the kids. The majority of the cast consists of children, and what a relief to find them all to be delightful performers. Young Ralphie Parker, played by Bradley Shipp, is correctly awkward. Kevin Cox portrays Ralphie’s little brother Randy and, with his peckish build and mangled mop of hair, he turns a footnote role into a memorable facet. Daniel Neele, as buddy Schwartz, would do well to consider acting as a future gig. We also see a roving team of girls who are classmates of the Parker boys. Here, too, the young ladies are just right. A girl even takes a shine to boyhood Ralphie and provides one of the evening’s best moments.
My inner curmudgeon takes issue with the pacing, which wanes between scenes. The result is a production which, including an intermission, runs a full hour longer than the classic film upon which the play is based.
Should any of this prevent you from adding A Christmas Story to your list of holiday destinations? Absolutely not. Was the result worthy of the brief trek to Barboursville? Certainly.