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Heart-warming and thought-provoking, SLO Rep's A Christmas Story returns for its sixth annual show 

Back for its sixth year in a row, SLO Repertory Theatre's A Christmas Story returns to the downtown playhouse with an all-local cast.

The stage-adapted script follows the same plot as the classic 1983 holiday film: A young boy named Ralphie (played by SLO Rep's Coen Carlberg) gets his sights set on a BB gun and decides it's all he wants for Christmas. But to the play version's unique advantage, the narrator is acted out on stage by an older version of Ralphie (Don Stewart), whereas in the movie the narration is an unseen voice.

click to enlarge A PRIZED POSSESSION Ralphie (Coen Carlberg) imagines a world where he owns the Red Ryder BB Gun. He wants to be the hero and protect his family—left to right: Mother (Alicia Klein), Randy (Kyan VanderWeele), and The Old Man (Seth Blackburn)—from evil. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYLO MEDIA DESIGN, RYAN C. LOYD
  • Photo Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design, Ryan C. Loyd
  • A PRIZED POSSESSION Ralphie (Coen Carlberg) imagines a world where he owns the Red Ryder BB Gun. He wants to be the hero and protect his family—left to right: Mother (Alicia Klein), Randy (Kyan VanderWeele), and The Old Man (Seth Blackburn)—from evil.

Director Kevin Harris told New Times that this onstage element brings a whole new layer to the classic production.

"It's a flashback play, and so internally the structure of the play is all about time and looking back and memory," Harris said. "You have this older narrator looking back on his life as an older man and discovering just how lucky he was to have had the opportunity to live through it."

Little Ralphie and big Ralph act out their scenes in perfect synchrony, though the other characters on stage—Mother (Alicia Klein), The Old Man (Ralphie's father played by Seth Blackburn) and Randy (Ralphie's "kid brother" played by Kyan VanderWeele)—can only see little Ralphie, of course. During Ralphie's greatest trials (including school bullies, an arguing family, and failing to tell Santa what he really wants) and his biggest triumph—finally getting that Red Ryder BB Gun he's been vying for—big Ralph is right there beside him, reliving his own memories on the stage.

But it's not just the characters on stage who experience nostalgia. Harris said the movie version of the play is so iconic that the play will have memories flooding back to audience members, too.

"I think there's also a dual layer happening here because so many people are familiar with the movie version, and they have their own very specific memories," he said. "You have this extra layer of nostalgia that we are super happy to ride the wave on. People come in here already loving the story, and hopefully we can bring a little bit more of what Jean Shepard was trying to say."

As the co-scripter and original movie narrator, Shepherd didn't just seek to create another heartwarming Christmas tale: A Christmas Story has a deeper message about time and growing old, Harris said. The SLO Rep director's favorite scene happens to be the last one, where big Ralph's final monologue reveals a deeper meaning behind the BB gun, "this thing which tells time."

"Time is what it's all about," Harris said. "That's why I love working on this play: It gives us a chance to recognize that things are moving quickly and to encourage us to appreciate what we have while we have it."

As an ever-growing community theater, SLO Rep has increased how many actors it can bring in from across the nation for their year-round productions. But for A Christmas Story, the cast is all local, which means that many of the cast members have been a part of this same annual production for many years straight.

"These are actors that in many cases we've worked with six, seven, eight times before, not just on this show but on other shows," Harris said.

With A Christmas Story in particular, the abundance of children's roles presents another element of locality.

click to enlarge FLASHBACK PLAY Big Ralph (Don Stewart, left) remembers how much his younger self (Coen Carlberg, right) wanted the BB gun that everyone says he'll "shoot his eye out" with. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYLO MEDIA DESIGN, RYAN C. LOYD
  • Photo Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design, Ryan C. Loyd
  • FLASHBACK PLAY Big Ralph (Don Stewart, left) remembers how much his younger self (Coen Carlberg, right) wanted the BB gun that everyone says he'll "shoot his eye out" with.

"The kids obviously have to be local. We can't hire in kids," Harris explained. "So being able to work with these young actors, some of them have done [A Christmas Story] four or five times, and they've kind of worked their way up to different characters as they've grown up."

Harris emphasized that it is the support of the local community that allows SLO Rep to keep putting on this seasonal production, year after year.

"The audiences have been growing every single year, and we have so many people telling us that it's part of their Christmas tradition to come see A Christmas Story."

Whether it's already a part of your annual tradition or you're looking to start a new one, A Christmas Story is a thought-provoking and heart-warming production that will engage every member of the family. Δ

Arts Writer Malea Martin is writing her holiday wish list. Send arts story tips to mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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