Monday, December 5, 2011

Tri-PAC's 'A Christmas Story' is a gift to theater lovers

Cowboy-Fantasy - David Helmer as Ralphie, Geoffrey Berwind as Ralph

By Cheryl Thornburg
  Having heard the anecdotes of " A Christmas Story" from the lips of author Jean Shepherd himself, I wasn't sure if the stage production would live up to the images generated in my own head as I listened to Shepherd's smooth and captivating delivery on the radio more than 30 years ago, but Tri-PAC has done it again.
Admiring-his-Prize - Steve Reazor as The Old Man
  From the Pepto-Bismol pink bunny rabbit to the outrageous leg lamp, the props and set recreate Shepherd's world of 1940s Indiana perfectly.  And talented cast captures the essence of the characters as well.
  For those unfamiliar with the story,  "A Christmas Story"  focuses on Ralphie who wants a  Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. His nonstop campaign to convince his parents that he won't "shoot his eye out" is the thread that ties together all of the other totally hilarious incidents from Shepherd’s novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.”
  Director Bill Kiesling gathered so many talented actors together, that several of the children's roles are double cast.  Sundays' performance featured David Helmer as Ralphie.  He is tautly believable in the role, particularly in his interaction with his brother, Randy,  and his friends, Flick and Schwartz.  
Geoffrey Berwind as  the adult Ralph
Randy is played by Xander Dake who managed to steal most of the scenes he is in, whether hiding from his parents or loudly declaring he has to go to the bathroom, he had the audience laughing again and again.  Sunday's audience by the way was filled with many of the young actors' peers as 102 Girl Scouts attended the performance in honor of the Girl Scouts 100th anniversary.
   Flick and Schwartz were played to perfection by Nathan Esser and Sebastian Coates.
  Olivia Swenson is delightful as  Esther Jane Alberry, the girl who is obviously smitten with Ralphie. Her facial expressions and body language bring back fond memories of Puppy Love.
    Helen Weathers. the smart one, is played by Lauren Esser with a charm reminiscent of Emma Watson as Hermione in the first Harry Potter movie.
   The bully, Scut Farkus, was played William Bell on Sunday, and he made the most of chasing and arm-twisting the smaller kids.
   Alternate cast members are Ben Williams (Ralphie), Carter Niness (Flick),  Josiah Swenson (Schwartz),  Alex Tomarelli (Scut Farkus),  Jenna Tomarelli (Esther Jane Alberry), and Hannah Paczkowski  (Helen Waethers.)  In  a cast talk-back after the show, it was mentioned that the interpretations of the characters is different with each cast, so it might be fun to see it twice.
Andrea Frassoni as Mother & Xander Dake as Randy
  The adult members of the cast were amazing to watch.  It's hard to tell who was having more fun, the audience or them.
  Steve Reazor is outrageously funny as Ralphie's dad, otherwise known as "The Old Man." Reazor has great comedic timing and delivers a multitude of fake curse words with such enthusiasm, that at times, it seems like he is really cussing.
   Geoffrey Berwind as the adult Ralph, looking back on his Christmas past, delivers Shepherd's words with just the right pacing and nuance. I could close my eyes and almost hear Shepherd himself.
   Providing the perfect foil to Reazor's over-the-top dad, is Andrea Frassoni as the mother.  Her delivery is more subtle, evoking moms of the '40s and '50s, with an endearing quality that makes her the glue that holds the family together.
  My favorite scene is the battle over the atrocious "leg lamp" that the father loves and she hates. Choreographed to music, as each in turn, turns the lamp on and off while the other isn't looking, is comedic genius.
   Adding to the laughter in this holiday favorite is Michele Bolay as Miss Shields, Ralphie's teacher.  She may not have as much time on stage as the others, but she makes the most if it, particulary in Ralphie's dream sequence when she turns into a witch.
  Once again Village Productions and the Tri-County Perfroming Arts Center has delivered the complete package, with actors, sets (Aaron Gould), props (Greg Kasander), lighting (Joe Tomarelli) and costumes (Nicole Kline)  all coming together for a fun night (or afternoon) at the theater.
  The show  runs weekends through December 18 at  the Tri-County Performing Arts Center at 245 E. High St. in Pottsown.
  Tickets are available online at or will be sold at the door if space is available.  Ticket prices range from $13 to $21, with discounts for students and seniors as well as groups of 10 or more.  For full information check  or call the theater at 610-970-1199. 

P.S.  If just some of the 102 Girls Scouts attending have been bitten by the theater bug as performers or audience members, that's great for the future of live theater.

For up-to-date  information on area theater productions, reviews and auditions,  follow me on Twitter @MercArtsCheryl or book mark Curtain Call at


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