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TLT's "A Christmas Story" is just what you'd expect

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I have never seen the film version of A Christmas Story. This puts me, I think, in a pretty exclusive club, having somehow managed to avoid the 75,329 airings of the film on cable TV every Christmas season - Christmas season being approximately October to February these days.

This is relevant in as much as I walked into Tacoma Little Theatre - and their theatrical production of A Christmas Story - burdened by a bare minimum of sentiment.

Also, if you want to know how the play stacks up to the film, you won't find out from me.

A Christmas Story is cute. That's the best word for it. It's not a masterpiece of American theatre, or a complex think piece on the nature of Christmas - or anything like that, really. It's cute. That's what it's for. And it's good at it.

This is part of why Angel Lopez is able to own nearly every scene he's in as narrator Ralphie's younger brother: in a play built on cute, the cutest kid wins the show, right? Cuteness aside, though, Lopez demonstrates a remarkable knack for physical comedy throughout, and is poised for an entertaining community theatre career over the next few years.

The bulk of the show is built on the performances of kids, which is a difficult thing to manage. It's hard enough to find one child who can carry a show, let alone half a dozen. In accomplishing this task director Julie Halpin has brought her considerable experience as an educator with her - having spent 36 years teaching high school students and sending them out into the world as actors, technicians, and the occasional reviewer of local theater - wrangling a group of newcomers and TLT children's program students into a functioning cast of actors.

The kids have some help, in the form of Brian Lewis, who absolutely aces the role of The Old Man, Ralphie's father. A man hounded by ravenous neighbor dogs, put upon by furnace clogs, and absurdly excited by any validation of his life, most notably in the form of the leg-shaped lamp that graces the poster and program cover, Lewis wields facial expressions, slapstick flailing and a litany of invented profanities to great comic effect.

TLT has caught some flack over the years for failing to push boundaries with its main stage selections, and in some ways A Christmas Story lands in the same boat. The play is 9-years-old, the movie 26, and there is nothing about any of it that challenges the viewer in the slightest. Most of the audience's enjoyment draws on a set of jokes they hear year in and year out.

But the stage is in a precarious place in Tacoma. I love theatre, and I would love to see its horizons expanded in my city. If TLT can leverage its audience to do that, fantastic. But that only works if they have the audience to leverage. People in the seats come first.

TLT did a great job of this with The Buddy Holly Story last year, and I suspect they can find a little momentum with A Christmas Story as well. If a few families who traditionally sit down to watch the film anywhere from three to seven times a season on television decide to haul themselves to the theater and give the live version a try this year, then I say TLT made the right choice.

[Tacoma Little Theatre, A Christmas Story, through Dec. 24, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4, 5, 9, 10, 16 and 17, 2:00 p.m. Dec. 5, 6 and 24, $16-$24, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281]

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