Theatrical Outfit’s ‘Christmas Story’ has fun touches, energetic cast

All Ralphie Parker (Max Walls) wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder air rifle, but everyone around him believes the BB gun will shoot his eye out. (Photos by Casey Gardner Ford)

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

All Ralphie Parker (Max Walls) wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder air rifle, but everyone around him believes the BB gun will shoot his eye out. (Photos by Casey Gardner Ford)

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

Providing legendary actor Tom Key with a holiday showcase to show how he uniquely warms an audience, Theatrical Outfit’s “A Christmas Story,” onstage through Dec. 24, is a charming, cozy confection.

The Philip Grecian-scripted play adaptation of the 1983 film mixes the familiar joys of the movie with comforts that Atlanta audiences specifically have come to know.

Casting Key in the central role as the Narrator — wherein he leads the audience in song, delivers the lion’s share of lines, evokes original storyteller Jean Shepherd and steps in and out of the story as a side character when needed — is a masterstroke. Atlanta audiences have been watching him for around 40 years, and he spent some time as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Alliance Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” a version of which was later helmed by this show’s director, Rosemary Newcott. He co-wrote “Cotton Patch Gospel.” He led Theatrical Outfit as artistic director from 1995 to 2020. He is an amazing performer always, last appearing onstage in the Theatrical Outfit and Dad’s Garage co-production of “The White Chip,” playing a range of characters.

Tom Key, left, as the Narrator, and Max Walls share the role of Ralphie Parker in the stage version of “A Christmas Story” at Theatrical Outfit.

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

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Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

“A Christmas Story” capitalizes on the fact that Atlanta knows and loves Key, as it should. His presence is the first thing we see, wishing us a Merry Christmas and making us feel at home.

Then, as you realize so much of the play’s success rests in the Narrator’s massive amount of exposition dialogue and asides, you know we are in safe hands.

The script is designed in such a way that the Narrator and young Ralphie Parker mirror the lead role. Whenever any character warns Ralphie that his desired Red Ryder air rifle BB gun might “shoot his eye out,” both Key and performer Max Walls wince.

Walls — previously onstage this year in Out Front Theatre’s “Ruthless!” — is terrific and funny as young Ralphie, giving a game, physical performance that requires multiple costume changes, slow-motion action scenes and a lot of wit. In an elementary school romance subplot added for the play, Walls and actress Jemileen Vasquez have a delightfully awkward chemistry.

Ralphie’s parents, played by “Tiny Beautiful Things” co-stars Maria Rodriguez-Sager and Robin Bloodworth, have the same kind of playful, crackling spark that Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin shared in the film. Rodriguez-Sager gives her character a know-it-all vibe, warmth and a savvy sense of humor. Bloodworth has a lot of fun as the Old Man, frequently frazzled and griping nonsense curses over broken furnaces, blown fuses and flat tires.

As Ralphie’s mother, Maria Rodriguez-Sager gives her character a know-it-all vibe, warmth and a savvy sense of humor.

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

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Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

As with the movie, the parents’ passive-aggressive war over the Old Man’s tacky “major award” is pretty epic, culminating in an excellent bit of physical comedy from Rodriguez-Sager. Bloodworth’s wanton desire for holiday turkey is also a hilarious running gag.

As teacher Miss Shields, Brittani Minnieweather is kind and funny. Vasquez and Michelle Pokopac do good work as some of Ralphie’s classmates. August Smith, who alternates the role of kid brother Randy with Lucas Hulsey, was also very funny.

Playing Flick, Schwartz and bully Scut Farkas, actors Gabriel Chavez-Vitiello, Lance Avery Brown and Pilot Bunch deliver high-energy, fun performances.

Deserving of a special shout-out is assistant stage manager Kayla Brooke, who frequently redresses the set and exchanges props throughout the show, intentionally in full view of the audience. She interacts with and is openly acknowledged by the Narrator, and she received her own curtain call on opening night.

“A Christmas Story” is full of fun touches like that. With the fourth wall essentially broken from the outset, there are layers of laughs to find, and Newcott’s direction highlights them.

The set design from Daimien J. Matherson and Monty Wilson is beautiful. The props from Caroline Cook were spot-on, and even the turkey looked delicious. The lighting design from Nadirah T. Harper made everything feel homey and familiar, though there were noticeable glitches during the performance attended for review.

All in all, “A Christmas Story” provides a fun, familiar Atlanta holiday feeling.

THEATER REVIEW

“A Christmas Story”

Through Dec. 24. 7 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $25-$45. Theatrical Outfit at Balzer Theatre, 84 Luckie St. NW, Atlanta. 678-528-1500, theatricaloutfit.org.

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Benjamin Carr, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is an arts journalist and critic who has contributed to ArtsATL since 2019. His plays have been produced at the Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan as part of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival and at the Center for Puppetry Arts. His novel, Impacted, was published by The Story Plant in 2021.


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Credit: ArtsATL

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Credit: ArtsATL

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