AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Philip Grecian
Presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre
Directed by John McCluggage
San Jose Repertory Theatre
101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA / (408) 367-7255

Reviewed by Judy Richter

You don't see many plays based in Hammond, Ind., my hometown, but "A Christmas Story" by Philip Grecian is the exception. He based his play on the popular seasonal movie of the same name by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark. They in turn had based the movie on Shepherd's collection of stories, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash," in which he describes growing up in Hammond, his hometown, during the late '30s and early '40s. In the movie and play, however, the town is called Hohman, after the town's first settler and the main business street.

San Jose Repertory Theatre is staging this endearing play under the direction of John McCluggage. With a cast of seven kids and only three adults, it is set in the Parker family home in Hohman shortly before Christmas. Much of the story is told by a narrator, the adult Ralph (Dan Hiatt), who describes how much his 9-year-old self, Ralphie (Zachary Freier-Harrison), wanted and campaigned for a special Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas even though everyone told him, "You'll shoot your eye out."

Ralphie's family includes his father, called the Old Man (Howard Swain); his mother, called Mother (Nancy Carlin); and his younger brother, Randy (the impish Evan Coleman). (Swain and Carlin are married to each other and have children of their own.) They all have their little quirks, the kinds of characteristics that make a family a family and that endear them to the audience. The three adults also play other peripheral characters, including Miss Shields, Ralphie's teacher. The other characters are Ralphie's schoolmates, who figure in some of his adventures.

Robert Mark Morgan's set uses a turntable and sliding set pieces to effect quick scene changes. B Modern's costumes are on the mark with one exception. The kids supposedly bundle up against the cold winter, but the girls wear only skirts and knee socks to protect their legs rather than the leggings or at least wool slacks that every mother insisted her daughter wear. The lighting is by Lap-Chi Chu, the sound by Jeff Mockus. Both are effective.

The pace tends to lag somewhat with the kids' scenes, but it always picks up when the adults are involved because they're such skilled actors. Some of the scenes are hilarious, especially when the Old Man is thrilled to win the grand prize in a contest -- a table lamp in the shape of a woman's leg. Other scenes are quietly humorous, generating warmth without sugary sentimentality -- a good way to help celebrate the season.

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