Penobscot Theatre Company’s ‘A Christmas Story’ a holiday delight

Posted Dec. 04, 2011, at 1:49 p.m.
Nick Danby (left) and Aidan Babbitt rehearse a scene from Penobscot Theatre's &quotA Christmas Story."
Courtesy of Michael Weston
Nick Danby (left) and Aidan Babbitt rehearse a scene from Penobscot Theatre's "A Christmas Story."
Jeri Misler (from left), Nathan Manaker and Arthur Morison rehearse a scene from Penobscot Theatre's &quotA Christmas Story."
Courtesy of Michael Weston
Jeri Misler (from left), Nathan Manaker and Arthur Morison rehearse a scene from Penobscot Theatre's "A Christmas Story."
Jasmine Ireland (left) and Nick Danby rehearse a scene from Penobscot Theatre's &quotA Christmas Story."
Courtesy of Michael Weston
Jasmine Ireland (left) and Nick Danby rehearse a scene from Penobscot Theatre's "A Christmas Story."

BANGOR, Maine — There’s no denying that “A Christmas Story” is one of the most beloved American holiday stories of all time — and the stage adaptation, which the Penobscot Theatre Company chose as its December production, maintains that madcap, irreverent spirit of both love and nostalgia.

PTC’s “Christmas Story” is a delightfully charming romp through one man’s memories of a neighborhood Christmas. If you aren’t in the holiday spirit when you walk through the Bangor Opera House doors, when you walk out after the show, you will be.

The star of the show is, of course, Ralph Parker, played as a boy by 13-year-old Nick Danby and as an adult by Dominick Varney. The role of Ralph offers Danby plenty of chances to flex his comedic muscle — something he’s very good at — as well as focus on a few more intimate, emotional scenes. He makes the character of Ralph come alive, from his wild flights of imagination to his sometimes deceitful ways of getting what he wants. Danby is developing into a fine stage actor. It will be fun to watch him grow up. Varney, as usual, delivers a mix of sweetness and silliness as Adult Ralph, who narrates the show, and by the end of the play lends a convincing continuity between the boy and the man.

If there’s another star of the show, however, it’s the crew that created the beautiful set, designed the lights and sound, and overall rose to the challenge of an extremely technically complex production. The multilevel set designed by Erik D. Diaz is full of unusual exits and entrances and moving pieces, and yet feels comfortable and homey, like the Parkers’ living room.

There are more than 200 sound cues in the show, designed by Aaron Noble, who never missed a beat — nor did lighting designer Shon Causer. And the costumes, designed by Rebecca Wright, evoke mid-20th century America with pinpoint accuracy.

Director Nathan Halvorson had a large cast of young actors to wrangle, and he drew fine performances from all of them. In particular, Ralph’s younger brother Randy, played by Nathan Manaker, is a hoot. Manaker is a born comedian, with elastic facial expressions and natural timing. All the young actors are wonderful in the scenes in which Ralph imagines he’s a jungle explorer or a cowboy.

Jasmine Ireland has a handful of scenes as Ralph’s teacher, all of which are hilarious, and as Mother and Old Man, Jeri Misler and Arthur Morison ham it up big time — but never once feel like anything other than loving, involved, slightly daft parents. In fact, that’s not unlike the overall feel of the whole show: silly, but with a huge amount of heart. The exceptionally well put-together “A Christmas Story” is the best show at PTC so far this season.

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