Tuesday, December 13, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Rifling through Christmases Past By Beverly Creasey

I don’t think Jean Shepherd’s A CHRISTMAS STORY could have a more delightful dramatization than New Repertory Theatre’s. Director Diego Arciniegas’ witty production (playing at Arsenal Arts through Dec. 24th) makes Philip Grecian’s adaptation pulse with naughty nostalgia: It’s a look back at the good old days through a wiser, slightly sardonic lens.

Barlow Adamson is perfection as the narrator fondly recalling those “festering years of childhood.” We all recognize the bullies at school, the dreadful gifts from maiden aunties and the embarrassing parents. We’ve been there. A CHRISTMAS STORY cleverly manages to be totally charming even as it pokes fun at life in the Midwest in1950. Life anywhere in 1950 was bizarre. (I speak from experience!)

Bless them, Arciniegas and company mine humor from the nooks and crannies of the story, in addition to the comedy built in to the script: Take Santa for instance. Gerard Slattery as the scary Mr. Claus has a Sweeney Toddesque barber chair perched atop a department store mountain of snow. For a split second Santa contemplates pitching the children into the abyss below. Just for a second. Not to worry.

Owen Doyle, too, delivers deliciously caustic pronouncements as father. Poor man, even back in the ‘50s, women ran the show. Stacey Fischer is hilarious as the power behind (and in front of) the throne. Margaret Anne Brady, as well, gets extra mileage from her comic turns. I don’t know which is funnier: her undulating English teacher or her stint as a hardboiled Christmas tree vendor. Even Andrew Cekala, as young Ralphie, steals laughter by the carload as he ogles (and caresses) the shapely gam at the base of father’s prized lamp.

All the children are marvelous, from Cekala’s cheeky Ralphie, determined at all costs to get that official Red Ryder air rifle; to David Farwell’s obstreperous little brother; to Charlie Brodigan’s benighted Flick, lisping adorably after the incident with the light pole. Shepherd would be so pleased. Don’t miss out.