Bay City Players Yuletide Portrait of 'A Christmas Story

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 853   By: Robert E Martin

16th November, 2017     0

The holidays illuminate brightly on the stage of Bay City Players as this honored theatrical company continues the celebration of their 100th season with the welcomed levity of humorist Jean Shepherd’s memoir, A Christmas Story – a contemporary classic that follows 9-year old Ralphie Parker in his quest to find a genuine Red Ryder BB gun under the tree on Christmas morning.

With productions scheduled for December 1-3 & 8-10th and under the direction of Jessica McFarland, all the elements of the beloved motion picture are present, including the family’s temperamental exploding furnace; Scut Farkas, the school bully; the boys’ experiment with a wet tongue on a cold lamppost; the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin; Ralphie’s father winning a lamp shaped like a woman’s leg in a net stocking, and of course, Ralphie’s delightful fantasy scenarios.  Plus, according to McFarland, Players’ production also includes “a few nice additional scenes and a lot of great sight gags and comedy that can only be brought to a live stage with the creative input of actors.”

For McFarland, what distinguishes A Christmas Story the most is the point-of-view established by its narrative. “I think people really respond to the mix of the innocence of a child’s viewpoint with the frank acceptance of Christmas in all its’ cynical, commercially-driven glory.  On the one hand, you have lovely scenes like kids arguing about whether or not a tongue will stick to a flagpole, or exhausted parents falling asleep on the couch after an eventful holiday.”

“On the other hand, you have Little Orphan Annie hawking Ovaltine.  It’s that mix of the great and the not-so-great that I think resonates with audiences, because it feels very genuine.  We won’t be updating the story – there are so many references to 1940’s life that it would feel awkward to try to bring it into the new Millennium, and even though modern under-40’s may not get the references to Simoniz, Doc Savage, or Lifebuoy, they will still relate to the overall feel of the nostalgia of a safe, suburban, Midwest upbringing.”

What does Jessica feel are the key themes involved with A Christmas Story and are there any particular areas of the play she is attempting to emphasize and bring out as a director?

“I think the most obvious theme is the juxtaposition of the “Norman Rockwell Christmas” versus the Christmas that most of us get in reality,” she reflects.  “Even though the show is set in the Golden Age and viewed through a child’s memory, so many things go wrong and are less than perfect that it’s amazing that the Parker family gets to have Christmas at all, let alone one that Ralphie remembers as “the best he has ever had.” 

“The idea that even though you might get all the wrong gifts, all your plans might be derailed, and your lovely dinner might get eaten by a pack of flea-bitten hound dogs, you can still have a nice Christmas if you have the people you love.  It’s schmaltzy, but what’s wrong with a little Schmaltz, especially at Christmas time?”

“I was also interested in the idea of growing up, how we look at Christmases when we are young versus how we look at them as adults,” she continues.  “The focus of Christmas shifts from being innocently self-absorbed (what presents are you going to get?) to more outwardly focused, especially as you become the parent yourself.” 

“Ralphie is at an interesting age where this is probably his last innocent Christmas, not only because he’s getting to an age where he might have the Santa talk, but also by virtue of where he’s at in history.  I spent a good deal of time with the actors looking into the time period the show is set in, and what was going on in the world in December, 1940.  The depression was still a close memory for a lot of people, and of course December 1941 would be the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the flood of men to enlist.  America would go to active war and the world would look different to a 10-year-old.  Where his fantasies about guns would once revolve around Cowboys and Jungle adventures, they might take on quite a different view after such serious world events.”

“On a lighter note, it was very important to me that the stage play not read as a predictable list of jokes that had been heard one too many times.  Since the movie is an oft-played holiday classic, I knew it was a real danger for it to become a more “smile and nod” series of references than something that surprised you with how funny it was.  I forbid the cast to watch the movie and tried to start fresh with the script, and I’m really proud of what we’ve come up with.  All the favorite scenes are still there, but all the actors young and old have really brought their own personalities to the roles.  Everyone has a really great chemistry and every rehearsal I’m excited to see what new gag one of them might come up with.”

For Jessica, the biggest challenge involved with this production involves transitions. “The script is long and there’s a lot tucked in there, but I want the show to run a tight 2 hours including intermission.  We have wanted as much of a static set as possible and will do the rest with lighting and sound, but getting the actors to be tight on their cues and making sure that they don’t drag out lines is very important to making sure that the show stays light and funny.”

“I know it’s a cliché but I feel very blessed to get this cast,” notes Jessica.   “We had a large turnout for child actors and it was very difficult casting. This is a great show kid-role wise – everyone has scenes and multiple lines, so it was very important to me that all kids project well and have good diction.  My personal preference is for more natural kid actors as opposed to very trained.  I think each young actor brings something really special to their part, and they are all doing a terrific job.”

“I have to give special recognition to Alex Curry who plays young Ralphie – while this role does have a lot of lines, he has even more stage time reacting to Adult Ralph (played by Dave Ryan) and portraying emotions without saying anything.  This can be hard for adult actors, and the amount of range and comedic timing that he shows is truly impressive.” 

“Another stand out is Connor VanSumeren who plays Flick, Ralphie’s best friend whose main claim to fame is not believing his tongue will get stuck to a winter lamppost.  Connor has been so diligent with learning lines and has added a ton of comedy to his role.  As one of the slightly older kids he’s a great example of working hard and finding the right moments to improvise and the right moments to take a step back and not steal a scene.”

“We had a smaller turnout for adult roles, which is normal when there are only a few roles to go around, but I feel like we have a dynamite cast that is not only patient with younger actors, but such good examples of stage behavior, projection, and comedic timing/improvisation,” concludes Jessica.  

“The chemistry between The Old Man (Played by Tim Simons) and Mother (Played by Amanda Graham) was very important.  I feel like too often we fall into the roles of incompetent father and nagging mother, and while Mother and The Old Man are definitely dealing with the same stressors that we deal with today, they do have a lightness to their relationship that shows their ability to roll with whatever life throws at them.”

Bay City Players production of ‘A Christmas Story’ will run from December 1-3 and 8-10. Friday & Saturday performances are at 7:30 pm and Sunday matiness are 3:00 pm. Tickets are now on sale for $20 adult and $10 students at or by phoning 989-893-5555.




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