Entertainment » Theatre

A Christmas Story

by Adam Brinklow
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Dec 4, 2017
A Christmas Story

"A Christmas Story" opens with a slightly patched looking Salvation Army Santa on a street corner. His beard is frayed, his Santa suit doesn't quite fit, and he looks curiously resigned to his fate as he rings his bell and totes his red bucket.

This image, threadbare but evocative and poignant in its working class necessity, is one of the special moments when director and SF Playhouse co-founder Susi Damilano seizes the thunderbolt and successfully channels the intentionally tacky but sentimental spirit of the admired 1983 movie into this adaptation.

The story of Christmas in "A Christmas Story" is one in which nothing works and a warts-and-all reflection reveals that it's really all warts, but somehow we still care. And that is, after all, the spirit of the holidays.

Since every single person in America has seen this movie, "A Christmas Story" onstage holds few surprises.

Almost everything is here: the triple dog dare at the flagpole, the boot in the face from Santa, Dad's sexy lamp, and, of course, the glorious Red Ryder BB Gun that young Ralphie (Noah Broscow, a natural born ham if ever we saw one) pursues with true Yuletide determination.

Even the set by Jacquelyn Scott looks like a carpenter's collage of images from the film. Scott and Damilano try to navigate the constant scene changes with a variety of puzzle box moving parts, which make for awkward transitions where scenery bumps into everything and makes it woefully easy to catch a telltale glimpse of the backstage.

Adapted by Joseph Robinette, "A Christmas Story" opened on Broadway in 2012 and then legged it into San Francisco back in the slightly brighter era of 2015. It's a shamelessly unnecessary and redundant addition to pop culture, the Broadway equivalent of a marriage of convenience.

And yet, amazingly, that tour of "A Christmas Story" was really very good, transformed from a lump of coal into a diamond (or, apropos of this story, at least a cubic zirconia) by its surprising sincerity.

So, hey, miracles are possible. But not so this time, as the Playhouse production is messy and sheepish, full of untucked corners and small errors that snowball into bigger problems.

Broscow is a star in the making, but most of the kids are out of place, and the show flounders when it turns to classroom business. Christopher Reber seems affable as narrating grown-up Ralphie but kept missing his cues and stepping on other people's lines.

Every third scene features something dropped, something mistimed, something out of place, or something half-hearted. Meanwhile, the musical numbers are padded to the point of distraction.

A few choruses of "Ralphie To the Rescue" are catchy and cute, for example, but it starts to seem manic before long.

The kids sing their hearts out in "When You're a Wimp," but can't help the fact that songs like this add simply nothing to the show.

One late number, "Before the Old Man Comes Home," not only has nothing going on, it's actually ABOUT how nobody is actually getting anything done.

(On the other hand, a few more rounds of the sadistic department store elves from "Up On Santa's Lap" wouldn't have hurt...)

Despite Ralphie's ambitions for saving the day, it's his foulmouthed Old Man who comes through in the clinch for "A Christmas Story."

Ryan Drummond -- who seems to be nearly typecast as salty guys who want to give you a piece of their mind -- is such a natural and versatile humorist that even though his big number "A Major Award" is just the same gag for five minutes he could still be doing it and we'd keep watching.

Like the sidewalk Santa, Drummond feels like the real deal: aspirational, hapless, limited, and good, possibly an endangered species of oblivious Americana, proud in a naïve way that dispels toxicity.

On the other hand, the show shortchanges Abby Haug as Ralphie's nameless Mom, giving her only a couple of token songs about motherhood and never really breaking her out of the kids' frame of reference.

But she is poignant when given half a chance, and in the show's final number she and Drummond create true sentiment that, however briefly, transcends the show's limitations and becomes absolutely genuine.

"A Christmas Story" plays through January 13 at SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street. For tickets and information, call 415-677-9596 or visit SFPlayhouse.com.


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