Nostalgia makes for a winning ‘A Christmas Story’ at Silver Spring Stage

An iconic holiday classic and a delightful trip down memory lane.

Nostalgia is on the menu at Silver Spring Stage this holiday season with A Christmas Story. As a Cleveland, Ohio, native, I can’t get enough of this iconic holiday classic in which Ralphie Parker wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. The story is set in Indiana, but no self-respecting Cleveland native will let you forget that the movie (which preceded Philip Grecian’s stage adaptation) was filmed in Cleveland in 1983. Watching the film every holiday season is non-negotiable in Cleveland. We are even known to wear pink bunny suits (the same one Ralphie’s mom forces him to wear on Christmas Eve) while running Thanksgiving marathons. And don’t get us started on the Christmas Story House Museum, where a leg lamp shines brightly, year-round, in the house where the movie was filmed. If you come to Cleveland: we WILL drag you there. You’ve been warned.

Carey Bibb (Mother) and Harper Ruszkowski (Randy) in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.

So imagine my excitement when Silver Spring Stage announced that A Christmas Story would be its holiday offering this post-COVID season while we are all feeling nostalgic for “the before times,” when we could celebrate with family, visit Santa at the mall, and peer into grocery windows dreaming of the turkey that would grace our Christmas dinner table.

A Christmas Story is a glimpse back to a simpler time. It is told by adult Ralphie, who acts as the show’s narrator while the stories he tells of his childhood are simultaneously acted out on stage. Ralph’s memories revolve around wanting a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas and the friends and family that surrounded him. The story resonates because it taps into the nostalgia many of us have for our own childhoods. Who doesn’t remember their own class bully? The girl they had a crush on in elementary school? Or the rituals that made the holiday season uniquely personal to your family?

Brendan Murray does a fine job as adult Ralph, a role that requires a lot of memorization due to the numerous long monologues in the show. Much of the play takes place with adult Ralph standing on one side of the stage while the actors who play his childhood family members are front and center. Young Ralph’s parents are played by Charles Blizzard and Carey Bibb, who both give comical performances and deliver iconic lines like “It’s a major award!” and “You’ll shoot your eye out!” with great zeal. Nancy Somers gives a strong performance as Ralphie’s teacher, who shines in a very funny scene in which she is grading papers and complaining about students who use improper margins and semicolons.

Lucas Rahaim in ‘A Christmas Story.’ Photo by Harvey Levine.

But the true stars of the production are the brilliant child actors. Lucas Rahaim plays young Ralphie, a role that involves lots of stage time and multiple repetitions of “official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” For that line alone — which the young actor must repeat at least a dozen times — Rahaim deserves applause. As Ralphie’s little brother Randy, Harper Ruszkowski (who I’m guessing is the youngest member of the cast) is delightful and fun, popping out of closets and exclaiming, “I gotta go wee-wee!” (If you have seen the show you know this phrase has stoked fear in many a shopping mall Santa!).

Of the children in the supporting cast, Grady Webb stands out for his portrayal of Flick, the beleaguered friend who always seems to be the target of local bully Scut Farkas (Jesse Nuell). Webb induces lots of laughs from the audience, none more than when he gives in to the “triple dog dare” and gets his tongue stuck on a street pole. Shia Ringold also gives a great performance as Helen Weathers, the precocious know-it-all who (along with Maya Hassenplug as Esther Jane Alberry) shines in Ralph’s class.

The pacing drags at times during the production. Particularly in some of adult Ralphie’s monologues and when the kids are in line to see Santa. A quicker pace would allow the jokes to land more forcefully, getting even greater laughs. Also somewhat off-kilter was the dream sequence in which Ralphie’s mom and dad dance around each other (the Nutcracker is playing in the background) as they go about household chores, Mom turning the light off on the embarrassing leg lamp, while Dad (who loves the lamp) responds by turning it back on. It was unclear to me for several minutes what the point of the scene was because it was unclear that they were “arguing” over the leg lamp. A bit more intentionality at the beginning of that scene (or perhaps raising the lamp off the ground so it has a more central presence in the room) would make the purpose of the scene more clear from the beginning. The laughs could also be greater when Dad pulls his “major award” — aka the leg lamp — out of the box to the horror of his wife. Anyone who has seen the show before knows the moment is coming, so playing it up would increase the hilarity.

Special congratulations to Set Designer (WATCH Award winner Maggie Modig) and Properties Designer Nancy Davis. Part of the charm of A Christmas Story is its idyllic American setting, and Modig and Davis tap into that charm through period-appropriate decor from the fridge to the phone. The costumes also evoke the era, especially Ralphie’s mother’s dress and shoes (costumes by Linda Swann). The show’s numerous dream sequences — where we get a glimpse into young Ralphie’s imagination — are nicely differentiated by whitish-blue lighting (lighting design by Steve Deming). And brava to Silver Spring Stage for working with an intimacy director (Helen Aberger) on this project so that the actors are all ensured a safe and respectful work environment.

Fred Zirm’s direction makes good use of the venue’s awkward layout. A large beam divides the audience in half, requiring that all staging take account of viewers watching from two angles. This is a tricky spot to work in and Zirn pulls it off.

Anyone eager for a bit of nostalgia will enjoy this delightful production. I triple dog dare you to try it.

Running Time: Two and a half hours including one 15-minute intermission.

A Christmas Story plays through December 19, 2021, at Silver Spring Stage – 10145 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets ($25 regular, $22 student/senior, $19 child under 12), call the box office at (301) 593-6036 or go online.

COVID Safety: As of August 8, 2021, Silver Spring Stage requires that patrons and volunteers present a photo ID and show proof of vaccination — a physical or digital copy of a vaccination card — at the time of entering the theater. Masks are required for all guests, regardless of vaccination status. The artists are all vaccinated and wear masks while not on stage.

Producer – David Gross

Complete Cast:
Ralph – Brendan Murray
Ralphie Parker – Lucas Rahaim
Mother – Carey Bibb
The Old Man – Charles Blizzard
Randy – Harper Ruszkowski
Miss Shields – Nancy Somers
Esther Jane Alberry – Maya Hassenplug
Helen Weathers – Shia Ringold
Schwartz/Desperado1/Bumpus Hound/Tree – Larisa Jeffers
Flick/Desperado2/Bumpus Hound/Tree – Grady Webb
Scut Farkas/Black Bart/Bumpus Hound/Tree/Jungle Beast – Jesse Nuell
Radio Announcer/Policeman – Peter Orvetti
Fireman – Monica Coppola

Production Team:
Assistant Producer – Ruth Orland
Stage Manager – Dana Maksymova
Set Designer/Set Painter – Maggie Modig
Master Carpenter – Steve Leshin
Lighting Designer – Steven Deming
Sound Designer – Jeff Goldgeier
Properties and Set Dressing – Nancy Davis, Joy Wyne
Costume Designer – Linda Swann
Costume Mistress – Monica Coppola
Choreography – Nancy Scales Harry
Fight Choreography – Justine Crimans
Fight Captain – Carey Bibb
Music – Arielle Bayer
Intimacy Choreographer – Helen Aberger
Backstage Manager – Peter Orvetti
Artistic Liaison – Jim Robertson


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