Review: Florence Players wrap the season in leg-pulling, bang-on hilarity


Dec. 15, 2018 — When you coming back, Red Ryder?

Get on board the time machine for a ride back to Indiana in 1939, a time before cell phones, ear buds, Instagram, and even television. Your name is Ralphie Parker. You’re nine years old and you live with your mom and dad and little brother Randy. You listen to Little Orphan Annie on the radio and guess the correct numbers to earn a magic decoder ring.

Christmas is coming, and the only thing you really, really want is a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. You try everything to make your desire known to grown-ups—collecting and inserting advertisements in your parents’ mail, writing a school theme paper, asking Santa — but you keep running into the same objection: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” What’s a fella to do?

That’s the premise of “A Christmas Story,” from a collection of memoirs by humorist, actor, author Jean Shepherd that morphed into a movie in 1983 to become a holiday classic alongside “A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas,” if more akin to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with the Griswold Family.

In 1999, “A Christmas Story” was adapted for the stage, and that’s where it is this weekend, in the intimacy of the flat floor at the Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St.

So who the heck is Red Ryder? Red Ryder was the king of cowboys. He was the brave, daring and resourceful hero of a comic strip that ran in newspapers from 1938 to 1965. He fought for honor, justice and the American way. He had a young companion, a Native American named Little Beaver, but that’s a subject for another time, which of course it was.

Anyway, the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle was available for purchase, and that’s what Ralphie longed for. He fantasized protecting his family and friends from Black Bart and the Desperados, raccoons and snakes. Does Ralphie get his wish? Climb into that time machine and see for yourself.

“A Christmas Story” is presented by the Last Resort Players (LRP) with holiday gusto. Director Jennifer Connor-Chaney and a host of dynamic associates have corralled a lot of talented kids and adults and put them through their paces, keeping the action at a lively pace. The sturdy set — the Parker family home — replicates the period perfectly. The smoke from the forever breaking furnace is palpable, and you can almost taste the perennial meatloaf and red cabbage. The costumes are a marvel of another reality — coats and dresses, trousers and ties, overcoats, scarves and shoes — that was the fashion circa 1939.

The show’s format includes a narrator (Gary Miller), a laid-back, grown-up Ralphie who recalls this very special Christmas. He sets a scene, and the actors flesh it out. Sometimes he dons a 10-gallon hat and joins little Ralphie around a campfire for some cowboy talk.

Ralphie couldn’t be better represented than by fledging actor Shiloh Penrod. Penrod, a serious, engaging wit, maintains his character through and through with every word and gesture.

If an acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, Ralphie is most like his mom, played by Laura Miller, who does an outstanding job as hard-scrabbling, long-suffering, unconditionally loving mother and wife who knows all the answers to the quiz contests her husband is addicted to.

Ralphie’s dad, known as the Old Man, is played by Shawn Penrod, Shiloh’s dad in real life. Unlike his son, Shawn has a penchant for wacky verbal and physical comedy. While Ralphie and Randy are forbidden to use Bad Words, the Old Man has invented an enormous dictionary of curses, and he lets them fly like the Pirates of Penzance meet the Rolling Stones.

Besides the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, the other iconic object in this story is the prize when the Old Man finally wins in a contest. That prize is the ubiquitous leg lamp that results in all sorts of notoriety.

Jobie Gates as Randy doesn’t have many lines, but he’s an endearing expert at mugging, wiggling and squirming in layers and layers of snowsuit.

In addition to pursuing his dream, Ralphie and his buddies, Schwartz (Treyson Loomis) and Flick (Takla Blas) are plagued by school bully Scut Farkas (Joey Haines), a big kid in a coonskin cap and fierce raptor claws, accompanied by his right-hand man, Grover Dill (Matilda Hand), an adorable miniature bully. Poor Flick has the misfortune to get his tongue stuck, frozen to a pole, and requires rescue from first responders.

But it’s not all rough stuff. Ralphie awakens to the charms of the opposite sex as he is charmingly pursued by Ester Jane Alberry (Sylvia Hand) who gives him a pretty Christmas card.

Through it all, there’s a lot of fun, a minimum of mayhem and spirited caroling in “A Christmas Story.” Join the LRP for a good time — and watch for Red Ryder. Chances are he’ll come back to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

“A Christmas Story” opened Thursday and runs through Sunday, Dec. 16. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the FEC at 541-997-1994 or visit the website at EventCenter.org.

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