A Gift of Theater 

Boise Little Theater presents A Christmas Story

Say it's 1940 and you're the parent of a 10-year-old boy. You want to get him something educational for Christmas, but all he wants is a Red Ryder BB gun. Well, of course, that just isn't going to happen. The danger is too great, and, quite obviously, he'd shoot his eye out.

Or maybe you've got a 10-year-old Boisean in tow instead, and the year is 2007. You've told your tot that tonight is family night, and he responded by threatening to gouge out his eyes if you subject him to one more evening of board games based on animated films. He has no idea you've selected Boise Little Theater as the night's destination. Rest easy if you're either of these parents—your kid's vision is completely safe.

This year is Boise Little Theater's 60th year in existence, and its 50th in the unique round building in Fort Boise Park. This holiday season, the wonderful community craftspeople of BLT present A Christmas Story, arguably the best-known holiday film of the modern era.

Arriving theatergoers dressed in their Sunday best commingled with those clad casually in jeans. Comers of all ages were clearly welcome and well-represented. Even those 10-years old and under were prevalent, and seemingly enjoyed this show more than anyone else.

Mostly faithful to the 1983 Jean Shepherd-penned film, which was based on his book, an adult Ralph Parker narrates the story of a Christmas holiday from his youth. Every element that made the movie a pop-culture phenomenon is alive and well in the BLT recreation—constraining winter clothes, triple-dog dares, the department store Santa, Ovaltine radio commercials and all the rest, plus some new twists from stage adaptor Philip Grecian. If you're looking for an exact reproduction of the film, however, you aren't going to find it. From the perspective of a die-hard fan of the original, nothing could possibly re-create the magic that film director Bob Clark summoned from his perfectly cast stars. And yet, director Randy Lord—theater veteran and BLT newcomer—casts an entirely different spell over his audience, one spun by actors and stagehands who are effectively your neighbors.

Lord offers in his program notes: "What makes our show special? A Christmas Story is equal parts comedy, spectacle, storytelling and nostalgia—and 100 percent entertainment. It offers something for everyone, and to me, that's exciting."

Much like the movie, most attention is given to the young stars. Ralphie, played here by Graham Richmond, sports the oversized glasses, supplies snarky bits of dialogue and somehow perfectly mimics the body language of pint-sized big screen star Peter Billingsley. Jaxson W. Thornton also captures the iconic giggles and piggy sounds of the kid brother, Randy (Ian Petrella).

The real beauty of the film, and this production, is captured by the narrator—in the film, author Shepherd, and on the stage, loveable local Jerry Graves. In a show requiring much more interaction with the audience, BLT's A Christmas Story showcases Graves' storytelling abilities. As he traverses the stage, flawlessly interacting with the sets and characters, he wends the tale of how young Ralphie spent that fateful holiday. Truly, there are moments when he channels not only Shepherd's words, but also his intonations and wit.

This presentation is not without its flaws, and, certainly not on opening night. Words or lines were flubbed here or there, and stage lighting didn't shine precisely where it was supposed to. But this is community theater at its finest, perfect only because of its imperfections.

Smiles abound at BLT, worn proudly by attendees, board members, box office staff and, of course, the players. If it's commercialized Christmas spirit you desire, feel free to frequent the mall or the megaplex. BLT offers something a little different and a little more personal: the chance to interact with neighbors while immersing yourself in a bit of culture.

"Not only can dedicated theatergoers come and enjoy an art form they already know and love, but this is one of the rare productions that brings new minds into the space to experience the power and magic that can only be found in a live show," Lord writes.

Whether you're an aged fan of the film or a youngster blissfully unaware of its appeal, BLT's A Christmas Story is a sure feast for your senses—and a might safer on the eyes than a Red Ryder air rifle.

Dec. 6-8, 13-15, 8 p.m.; Dec. 9, 2 p.m.; Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. General $11; seniors and students $9; Wed. nights $9, 12 and under $5. Boise Little Theater, 100 E. Fort St., 208-342-5104, BoiseLittleTheater.org.

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