I’ll be straight with you I tend to be wary of all things Christmas-themed. It’s must be all those movies and holiday albums rife with over-the-top sentimentality and lush superficiality. Luckily, there’s no need to worry about any of that walking into the Ottawa Little Theatre to see A Christmas Story. More than anything this is a funny show in a quirky, let’s laugh at everyday life kind of way. It’s also terribly charming with characters you want to root for and a relatable, down-to-earth plotline. Sure, maybe you’ve never dreamed of owning a Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action Range Model Air Rifle (with a compass and a sundial built right into the stock) but we all know what it’s like to get obsessed with something and to chase after it through thick and thin. Brian Cano directs the OLT’s take on this holiday favourite with a script adapted for the stage by Philip Grecian based on the film and stories of Jean Shepherd.
A Christmas Story is a classic that you know of even if you’ve never seen it. Ever wonder where that old tongue-stuck-to-a-frozen-flag-pole gag came from? The 1983 film of the same name has become a holiday mainstay that even has a museum devoted to it. The story unfolds through the narration of our main character Ralph looking back on one memorable boyhood Christmas in small town Indiana sometime in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s. Kenny Hayes brings a sparkling energy and wide-eyed wonder to the storytelling role. At nine years old Ralphie is a boy with a wild imagination and through his eyes we revisit a time when bullies had green teeth and yellow eyes and Santa sat at the top of Mt. Olympus behind a curtain of tinsel. Everything has an aura of wonder about it. So yes, there’s nostalgia for the innocence of childhood and certainly kids will enjoy the story though that doesn’t make it a “children’s’ show. With its offbeat humour and nostalgia for a simpler time this is a night at the theatre a whole family can enjoy together.
The production features a double cast of child actors sharing the acting duties on alternating nights. Though I can only speak for the group I saw on stage I was quite impressed with the children’s performances. Alexandre Phaneuf is a gloriously nerdy Ralphie who’s a lot of fun to watch. Duncan Thompson brings a nice sense of menace as Scut, the schoolyard bully. Only eight years old Madeleine DoCanot-Primeau also stands out for her comical turn as Ralphie’s oddball little brother. Rounding out the cast are Christina Roman who brings a genuine warmth to her role as Ralphie’s mother playing a nice foil to Ralphie’s stubborn “Old Man” played by Roy Van Hooydonk. What stands out is the heart in the performances that makes up for some of the production’s shortcomings – some dialogue lost amidst excited delivery and almost-there Midwest accents and a few technical hiccups syncing sound and video elements.
The technical crew does a particularly good job of staging the transitions in and out of Ralphie’s fantastical day dreams without missing a beat. Barry Daley’s creative two-storey set is full of nostalgic charm with cheery pastels, vintage patterned wallpaper and a period kitchen. Costume designer Glynis Ellens also does a good job capturing the era and outfitting a herd of youngsters in logo-less layers fit for the coldest Indiana winter.
A Christmas Story has everything you could want in a holiday show, cozy nostalgia and comedic punch wrapped around a parable that stands the test of time.
We have a pair of tickets to give away for this performance. To enter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “A Christmas Story” in the subject line. A winner will be selected by random draw on Friday, December 11 at 2pm.
A Christmas Story runs at the Ottawa Little Theatre until December 19, 2015. Tickets start at $12 for students and are $25 for adults. For a complete schedule or to purchase tickets online, click here.