Review: The Rep’s ‘A Christmas Story’ a Charming Lesson in Retelling Iconic Stories

You remember, don’t you? You remember how big and important everything felt as a kid? Oh, we don’t mean the things adults think are important, we mean the really important stuff: a solid Christmas wish list, homework, friends, bullies, first crushes and triple dog dares.

“A Christmas Story” remembers, and it brings it all back to the limelight on the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage in this year’s holiday production.

Based on the classic movie of the same title, which is based on humorist Jean Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash,” “A Christmas Story” follows the plight of young Ralphie Parker on his quest for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (with a compass and this thing which tells time built right into the stock).

At the center of the story is the Parker family. Justin R. G. Holcomb plays the boisterous Old Man with all the red-blooded grit you could hope for, with just a smidge more tenderness, an even more imaginative vocabulary and an insatiable turkey lust. Claire Brownell plays Ralphie’s busy mother, who is all things to all people: wife, mother, housekeeper, disciplinarian, Christmas tree expert and trivia genius.

Joe McCurdy plays our hero Ralphie, delivering the determination, cleverness and innocence of our favorite Red Ryder fan. Randy, the youngest Parker, is played by Max McCurdy, and what Randy lacks in bladder control he more than makes up for in comical little brother-isms. (Yes, the boys are brothers in real life, too, which makes the on-stage pestering even more hilarious.)

Narrating the story is John Ottavino, the grown-up Ralph, who artfully constructs the childhood lense through which we view the fateful Christmas, playing with the audience as much as his own memories.

Kids in the cast outnumber the adults seven to four, and certainly give them a run for their money as well. Among them are Flick, Schwartz and yes, even the yellow-eyed Scut Farkus. There’s also the spunky Helen and Esther Jane, who is the object of Ralphie’s adorably awkward preteen affections, shy giggling included.

Audiences can expect the same glowing, leg-shaped ridiculousness and the infamous tire change (“Oh, fudge!”), but some of the biggest laughs come from Ralphie’s dream sequences. The cast’s comedic chops are on full display in these scenes, including those of mild-mannered elementary teacher Miss Shields, played by Rosemary Loar.

Perfectly cast and expertly directed by Mark Shanahan, The Rep’s “A Christmas Story” turns back the clock, turns up the nostalgia and sets you down in the living room of this iconic holiday tale, allowing you to experience it in the most extraordinary way — as part of the family.

“A Christmas Story” runs through Christmas Day. For showtimes and more information, or to purchase tickets online, visit The Rep’s website. You can also call (501) 378-0405 or visit the theater’s box office downtown at 601 Main St., Little Rock.

Just be sure to drink your Ovaltine.

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