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LA Theater Review

Christmas Story

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Adults pretending to be children is a hard sell. What is cute, normal behavior in a child can be agonizingly painful to watch when large people contort their bodies and faces into strange positions reminiscent of youth. Jean Shepherd's iconic Christmas movie, a staple of each holiday season, comes to the stage with some of its best elements, as well as a few not so agreeable.

Ralphie Parker (Joe Neuhaus) wants "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass and this thing which tells time built into the stock." His mother (Karen Webster) says what all mothers would say: "You could shoot your eye out." But that doesn't stop Ralphie from dreaming. He and his friends Flick (David Chorley) and Schwartz (Carter Mason) are gearing up for Christmas, except when they are trying to escape the resident bully, Scut Farkas (Jeff Hellebrand).

Playwright Philip Grecian's adaptation uses flashbacks by the adult Ralph (Richard Comeau) to recall scenes of his youth and that one special Christmas. Ray Akin's portrayal as Ralphie's Old Man is pretty hilarious. Attacking clinkers in the coal furnace, swearing with zest, and wistfully longing for the holiday turkey rather than the standard dinner of meatloaf and red cabbage are highlights.

The show is entertaining in the Walter Mitty-esque fantasies Ralphie conjures up as he imagines the benefits of this rifle. Scenes of little brother Randy's (Kristin Norris) over-padded snowsuit, Flick's tongue getting stuck on the icy pole, and Ralphie's budding romance with Esther Jane (Ana Maria Campoy) capture the spirit of childhood that makes memorable Shepherd's classic.

The show is less successful in director Jocelyn A. Brown's choice of having adults take the roles and then overexaggerating their mannerisms. Campoy and Neuhaus are the most natural in their characterizations, and those exchanges ring true. Another scene takes place at the rear of the theatre; craning necks diminish the humorous moments.

Die-hard fans will forgive the directorial choices, but these may prove problematic for others. Still, the spirit of Christmas is front and center in this holiday offering.

Presented by and at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Nov. 10-Dec. 18. (800) 838-3006.

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