Well, look no further than the Oswego Players’ latest production, “A Christmas Story.” A perennial favorite, you can find the 1983 movie version of “A Christmas Story” countless times on television, including the “24 Hours of A Christmas story” marathon that, for many, signals the true beginning of the holiday. So, if the movie is as easy to find as a click of your remote, why venture out to the Players’ theatre at the Fort Ontario complex?
Because there’s nothing like live theatre. Watching “A Christmas Story” on TV provides a nostalgic take on the story’s simpler time, but when sitting in the Player’s Francis Marion Brown Theater, you feel like you’re right in the home of young Ralphie Parker (played by Eli Belawske, who captures the hopes and dreams of a child who only wants one thing for Christmas—a BB gun). Ralphie’s parents, played by theatre veterans Tammy Wilkinson and Michael Bolio, also welcome us into their home by superbly portraying a mother and father whose dysfunctional parenting skills leads to all kinds of trouble.
The set design and construction by Players president Paul McKinney creates an atmosphere of the 1940s era of Ralphie’s world. Costumes (by Marie Cuyler Sterphone) complimented all the characters, especially young Ralphie, who at times was a Wild Wild West hero, a sightless street person and an Easter bunny. Sound and lights (by Thomas Fazzio, Bolio and Berlin) were right on the mark, too. I howled every time the neighborhood dogs (which we never see) chase Mr. Parker returning home from work each evening.
Direction by Norman Berlin III, in his first production at the helm, takes advantage of the many opportunities for slapstick (Ralphie’s little brother Randy, played by Apollo Avery, got several well-deserved laughs tightly bound in his winter outerwear, having trouble controlling his bladder and popping up in several hiding places in the family home) and farce (in Ralphie’s imagination his teacher, brought comically to life by Stephanie Johnson, turns into a witch).
Berlin should be especially proud of his direction of the nearly one dozen children in the play. All were on the mark during their scenes (a task in itself when dealing with first-time actors)) and fulfilled their role of standing in for our own childhood memories of being taken by the wonder of Christmas. Using the theatre’s limited space, we are at times literally surrounded by the sounds and actions of children at play, and, for a couple unfortunate boys, being chased by the town bully.
But we needed a guide to lead us to our childhood years and the play’s narrator, the adult Ralphie reflecting his memories directly to the audience throughout the play, provides the way back. Wonderfully portrayed by Josh Delorenzo, we listen to his bygone hopes, fears, awkwardness and challenges. Delorenzo, bespectacled and bow tied, is so convincing as an older version of Ralphie. At times, when he and Belawske were on stage together, I felt the regrets and joys I remember from my childhood.
And that’s the true gift of the Oswego Players’ rendition of “A Christmas Story.” For, of all the holidays, isn’t Christmas about childhood? Don’t our eyes light up when we see a boy or girl experiencing the joys of the season for the first time? Doesn’t that help us remember our own such times?
The Players’ brought that back for me and it can for you, if you don’t dally too long. Before the holiday season winds down to its December 25th end, treat yourself to one of their performances. The cast and crew will be offering “A Christmas Story” December 7, 8 and 9, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8:00 pm and the Sunday matinee beginning at 2:00. And with all the busyness this season demands, make it easy on yourself and reserve your tickets online at their website www.oswegoplayers.org. Those who prefer the old-fashioned way to communicate may call their box office at 315-343-5138.