Return to the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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Anyone of the Baby Boom variety will recognize the opening lines of the Lone Ranger radio program in the headline. But A Christmas Story, the play having its second incarnation at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, never refers to the mysterious masked man. Instead, our 50s hero, Ralphie Parker (played by Andre Mora on the day I attended), is laser-focused on Red Ryder’s Double-action BB air rifle as his choice for Christmas. Along the way, Ralphie’s father, The Old Man (Richard Van Slyke), wins an ugly lamp in a contest and insists on displaying it, much to the chagrin of his long suffering wife (Andrea Stradling).

On the day I saw A Christmas Story, the kids that make up Ralphie’s gang were an eclectic bunch: Kevin Ying plays his reclusive younger brother; and Lucas Lim, Myles Hutchinson, Charlotte Li, Jade Riley, and Jay Malcolm spend hours after school running from their nemesis, the  bully Scut Farkus (Jax Malcolm). And I can’t forget the hilarious teacher, Mrs. Shields (an engaging Danon Dastugue), always someone to be respected and feared.

You might say, with the adult version of Ralph played by Jack Kendall, that nothing momentous happens on Cleveland Street in Hohman, Indiana, yet the warmth and recognizability of mostly white, small town life returns us to a nostalgic vision of Christmases past. Even our Gen X-ers will recognize the clunky sweaters and antique toys they may have encountered in grand-parents’ attics. I found it interesting to note that the younger audience members in the room watched A Christmas Story with the same fascination for the toys, and especially the air-rifle, they must have received the first time around.

It is helpful to have a show with as mch attention to the smallest period detail as lavished here. The inventive set, designed by Charles Erven, features a gauzy scrim, 50’s era Christmas greetings, and plenty of holly. Costumes (by Shon LeBlanc) seem every bit as authentic.  Ever-important lighting (resident designer, Derek Jones) illuminates and obscures as needed. And, note to original fight choreographer, Ken Merckx: the children’s fights have survived intact and as fresh as ever. These kids are good!

One of the best features of any Sierra Madre Playhouse show is the lobby display. I’ll say it again: no other theatre takes so much care and attention to the lobby elements that help augment knowledge about each show. This Christmas, Lobby Curator Diane Siegel has literally decked the halls!

A Christmas Story continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2:30 PM (and a special Wednesday Night performance on Wednesday, December 19th); through December 30th at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre 91024. General Tickets are $45.00, with $40.00 for Seniors and $25.00 for youth up to age 21.  Phone (626) 355-4318.  For online ticketing: www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.