December 5, 2019
Ankeny’s ‘A Christmas Story’ fills their intimate theater with laughs aplenty
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
For many, A Christmas Story has become as traditional as “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Die Hard.” Jean Shepherd’s now iconic story has passed cult status and become part of the seasonal lexicon. Gather the most eclectic group possible and initiate a conversation about A Christmas Story, and there will be an instant bonding peppered with a rapid-fire recalling of favorite scenes, characters and personal relevance to this story.
This must-see story for holiday celebrants anchors its story in the 1940s through the incomparable lens of Shepherd. He used a treasure trove of his memoir moments and skillfully cobbled them together into an uproarious and often heartwarming pastiche that travels the decades from that bygone era quite nicely. Pulled from two of his memoir collections, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” and “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories,” A Christmas Story began as bits and pieces in his early radio shows in the 1960s. It next was a series of short stories printed in Playboy magazine during Shepherd’s writing tenure there. The 1983 filmed directed by Bob Clark launched the brand of this story, leaving its indelible imprint on countless minds. In 2000, Philip Grecian’s stage play adaptation became available, followed in 2012 by A Christmas Story: The Musical, by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Joseph Robinette.
Ankeny Community Theatre knows its audiences and what they like, and this seems to be a winner from the audience’s reactions. This group has an impressive and long history of presenting true community theatre, as every position – from administration to production to talent – is volunteer. The joy of forming a “production tribe” resonates in the delightfully intimate confines of their performing hall. This show shares this familiar collection of retro happenings, creating a suspension of disbelief through strategic scenic design and careful lighting to establish the variety of locations needed. Anchoring this show is Ralph, as an adult, providing a folksy narrative in his fictional Ralph/Jean Shepherd persona.
Hudson Parker gives us a fast-talking Ralphie, full of anxiety about how to get his beloved dream gift: the Red Ryder Carbine-Action Air Rifle. His mother (given a June Cleaver-esque charm) and The Old Man (boisterously played by Troy Gould) help anchor the family, along with little brother Randy, given whiny presence by Blake Sauer. Add the bully component of Scut Farcus (by the rough-hewn Will Harms), a girl classmates Helen Weathers and Esther Jane Alberry (Sadie Tillinghast and Eleanor Lawler), and Ralphie’s best buddies, Schwartz and Flick (nicely played by Grant Guiter and David Tillinghast), and the story unfolds. As Miss Shields, their teacher, Corinn Brush gives a fun turn at both the authoritarian and in her brief wicked fantasy role.
Ankeny Community Theatre does an admirable job showing that a modest community theatre operation can deliver a fun evening of heartwarming comedy, as the people seen in their everyday lives transform by night to bring live theatre to their community. This is a show that has heart, albeit needing a better sense of pacing. For the modest price of admission, this company does a fine job of sharing a delightful evening of theatre.
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