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All I want for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun

The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents A Christmas Story

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-11-01


How much time did director Rosy Ridenour spend thinking of ways to modernize, re-imagine, or otherwise tweak the Fort Wayne Civic’s version of A Christmas Story?

None. No time at all. “This isn’t something that you put your own spin on,” she says. “We’ve kept it pretty true to the story you know. I think audiences are expecting to see what they see in the movie, and that’s the holiday present that the Civic wants to provide for the audience.”

She adds: “If you were to update it… well, I think it would lose its charm.”

Ridenour is right. A Christmas Story, which begins its run at the Civic on November 3, is adapted from the 1983 movie, which in turn is based on author Jean Shepard’s semi-fictionalized account of growing up in Hammond, Indiana just before World War II. Though A Christmas Story was not successful when it first came out, cable television gave it a second life. Just a decade after its release it was considered a holiday classic.

And there is something about the adventures of young Ralphie (played on the Civic stage by Jason Collins) and his family over the course of the holiday season that’s so quintessentially of its time and place that trying to think of it any other way is just impossible.

Which is to say that it’s all there the stage version— the leg lamp, the Red Ryder BB gun, the triple dog dare and “you’ll shoot your eye out.”

“What I try to tell the cast is that the people that you’re seeing, and the people whose roles you are doing, that’s basically an outline,” says Ridenour. “Your personality has to flesh that out.”

One of the things that gives A Christmas Story its particular flavor is the voice-over narration by adult Ralph, played by Justin Herber. Herber, who last appeared on the Civic stage as Amos in Chicago (and won the Anthony Award for Best Supporting Actor), says memorizing all that dialogue was the most challenging things he’s done as an actor. “It almost has to be your full-time job,” he laughs. “I just had to find a quiet place and go to work. By the time we started rehearsals I had up to page 36 memorized.”

Herber is also on stage for almost the entire length of the play, though being in front of the audience, in full view, allows him to put his own stamp on the performance. “I’m able to do a little more with my face to emphasize a funny line.”

But like Ridenour, Herber doesn’t believe there needs to be some bold re-interpretation of what’s on the page or in the movie. “There are places where, by choice, I do it exactly like the movie because that’s what people expect,” he says. “There’s the line ‘oh, no, the classic mother b.b. gun block…’ If I put some weird spin on it, people would think ‘well, that’s not how it goes…’”

Perhaps the most memorable character in A Christmas Story is that of Ralphie’s father, known as The Old Man, a profligate user of curse words who “works in swearing the way other artists work in oil or clay” (though in the movie/play, the cursing is memorably rendered in gibberish). “Basically, I see him as a big kid, which isn’t a stretch for me,” says Nol Beckley, adding that he actually has a leg lamp at home. “I know who this guy is.”

Beckley — who claims (in jest, we think) that he auditioned for the play in order to get out of set strike for A Few Good Men — was familiar with A Christmas Story, but for fun he approached the role like he would any other. He made up a small backstory, he looked at pictures of 1930s Hammond, and talked to his grandparents about the era. He even went so far as to try to translate the “fake” swear words, just so he knew where to put the emphasis. “Something like ‘malaphorpin’ is easy. But then there’s ‘dogmat, clanky, pinge’… what do those mean?”

“But it’s a fun role,” he continues. “There are great lines, it’s physical, a little ‘over-the-top’… the whole cast is having a lot of fun with the play.”

The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents A Christmas Story
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street

Saturdays, November 3, 10, and 17 at 8 PM (plus a special matinee showing at 2 PM Saturday 11/10)

Fridays, November 9 and 16 8 PM

Sundays, November 4, 11, and 18 at 2 PM

Tickets: $24 Adults; $16 Age 23 and under; $20 Sunday Senior Matinees

Box Office: (260) 424.5220 or online: fwcivic.org

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