The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

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December 4, 2013

Holiday classic opens TRP season

TARBORO — "Top-notch holiday fare" will be in the spotlight Friday when the Tar River Players raise the curtain on its 2013-14 season.

The holiday classic "A Christmas Story" begins a two-week run at Edgecombe Community College's McIntyre Auditorium with opening night at 8 p.m. Friday.

"It's going to be great," director Benjamin Curran said. "It will be top-notch holiday fare."

Based on the 1983 film, "A Christmas Story" chronicles a holiday season of dilemmas for 9-year-old Ralphie Parker in his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun.

While celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, "A Christmas Story" has become a holiday film classic put into the same basket as "It's a Wonderful Life."

Despite a lack of enthusiasm from producer Warner Brothers, the film enjoyed moderate commercial success before finding its true niche on television.

The turning point came in 1998 when Turner Broadcasting began an annual tradition of running the film for 24 consecutive hours from Christmas Eve to Christmas night.

The rest – they say – is history as the film became a holiday icon spawning fan clubs, museums and a line of merchandise ranging from coffee mugs to winter scarves to a fishnet-clad, high-heeled leg lamp.

The film is so popular it has been adapted for the stage as both a straight play and musical – which is currently running on Broadway.

Therein lies the dilemma facing Curran, who is making his TRP directorial debut – bringing to a local stage something with which audience members are intimately familiar.

Admittedly hindered somewhat by stage limitations – particularly in attempting to recreate the varying locations of the show – Curran needed a balancing act to forge the final product.

"People know the film, and they have specific expectations of what it will be," he said. "We have to do the film justice.

"In the beginning, I conveyed to the cast that all characters should be close to how they are in the film, but with their own interpretations."

Citing scheduling difficulties of coordinating four adults and six children through seven weeks of rehearsal that included Halloween and Thanksgiving, Curran admitted the process was akin to "trying to herd cats."

Normally on stage or more often behind the scenes, Curran has found his debut directorial experience worthwhile.

"I've really liked watching the actors develop their characters," he said. "Minimizing my input worked. The actors have taken on the roles.

"Their success is a by-product of my lack of direction. It's been a good experience. It has illuminated the difficulties of being a director."

A mixture of TRP veterans and newcomers, the cast features Sam Gaul as Ralphie and Gary Jones as Ralph – a now middle-aged Ralphie, who narrates the show.

Gaul's actual younger brother Gray plays Randy, Ralphie's whiney, non-eating little brother. Coley Sykes is their long-suffering mother, and John Carson battles the furnace and the Bumpus hounds as The Old Man.

Alex Naccarato and Devin Harris portray Ralphie's two best friends, Flick and Schwartz, respectively.

Emily Grimes is classmate Esther Jane, as is Samantha Winstead as Helen, and Jean Grimes is teacher Miss Shields.

The neighborhood bully, Scut Farkas, is played by Tristen Sano, while the Bumpus hounds and the Parker's furnace appear as themselves.

"As far as community theatre goes, it's going well," Curran said. "We're dealing with a new light system, and that's a challenge. We've never used it before.

"Still, it's going to be great."

"A Christmas Story" opens Friday with shows Saturday evening and a Sunday matinee over its two-week run.

Curtain rises on Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m., with Sunday matiness starting at 2 p.m. All shows are in ECC's McIntyre Auditorium.

Available at the door, tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, seniors and groups of 10 or more.

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