By Jason A. Smith
Members of the Henry Players are preparing to do their part to kick off the holiday season, by presenting their version of a well-known Christmas film.
The group will perform "A Christmas Story," at the Henry County Performing Arts Center in McDonough, Thursday through Sunday, and again Nov. 28 and 29. The play is based on the 1983 film of the same name.
Mark Schau is a member of the Henry Players Board of Directors, and the director of the production. He said the play centers on a young boy, Ralphie Parker, and his "quest to get that one, great Christmas present, the Red Ryder BB gun."
"It's all looked at through the eyes of a kid," said Schau. "So, the adults tend to be more caricature-ish than character, and the other kids ... are definitely a little bit larger than life."
The director said the Henry Players typically presents a production with a holiday theme at the onset of the Christmas season. He said the group is "always trying to find things we haven't done before," which led him to choose "A Christmas Story."
Schau said the play, like many Christmas-themed productions, contains "a tremendous amount of nostalgia." The difference between those other works and "A Christmas Story," he said, is the play's ability to engage audience members.
"There are so many Christmas specials out there ... everything from the original 'A Christmas Carol' to the Muppets," said Schau. "Every one of those ... gets you in the Christmas spirit, but you're just a spectator. I think all of us can remember a time when there was one gift that we would do anything for.
"We'd start sucking up to everybody and trying to be good, starting right around Thanksgiving," he added. "I think whether you like the show or not, all of us can relate to what's going on there."
Schau said several differences exist between the stage version of "A Christmas Story," and the film, which is set in the 1940s. He said although the movie features an adult Ralph Parker as only a voice-over, the character is a visible narrator throughout the play.
"He's ... guiding us through his memory of Christmases," said Schau.
The director said the play has scenes which the movie does not, and vice versa. One element of the production which remains consistent, he said, is its "family-friendly" nature.
The cast of the play features performers as young as 6 years old. Schau credited the kids in the cast with being able to meet the demands of five weeks of rehearsals.
"We've got a good group," he said. "There are phenomenal actors on stage, and I really do hope they stay with the Players."
Assistant Director Heather Simmons has been associated with the Henry Players for three years, taking the stage twice herself. Simmons said she has had a "fantastic" experience with her younger cast members.
"I was really surprised," she said. "I've heard all the horror stories of what it's like to work with children, so I was very scared. The kids have been fantastic. They've been cooperative and they've paid attention."
Hayden Barrow, 9, of McDonough, will portray the role of Ralphie Parker in the play. Barrow, whose previous Henry Players credits include "Seussical the Musical" and "Papa's Angels," said he "had to think about" whether he wanted to audition for his newest role.
"I had already done a lot of plays before," said Barrow. "Then, when I found out how funny it was by watching some of the scenes, I wanted to try out."
Barrow said he has enjoyed working on the play, and interacting with his fellow cast members. He said he is "excited" about taking the stage in "A Christmas Story."
"I'm not nervous at all," said Barrow.
David Bedford will assume the role of the adult Ralph Parker, in his fourth production with the Henry Players. Bedford, 26, of Locust Grove, said he has loved "A Christmas Story" since he was 10 years old, and jumped at the chance to be in the play.
"It was actually one of my favorite movies," said Bedford. "I watch it, literally, 24 hours when it comes on at Christmas or Thanksgiving. It's kind of like one of those cult, holiday classics. I was really interested in it, and heard about the auditions when I was watching 'Sweeney Todd' through the Players."
Bedford's hope for the play, is that audience members will "have a good time" while watching it.
"There's a scene in here, pretty much, for everybody," he said.
The production will be presented, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center, at 37 Lemon St., McDonough, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The Nov. 28 performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., and the Nov. 29 performance is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. All six performances will be interpreted for the hearing-impaired.
Advance ticket prices are $12 for adults, and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets will be available at the performing arts center door for $1 more.
For more details or a list of ticket outlets, visit www.henryplayers.com.