Theater Review: TN Rep’s ‘Christmas Story’ Has Never Looked Better

christmasstory7The fifth edition of Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s annual A Christmas Story staging is up, and that Red Ryder 200-Shot Carbine Action Range Model Air Rifle with a compass and a thing that tells the time built right into the stock has never looked better.

Philip Grecian’s theatrical adaptation of the beloved 1983 film inspired by the works of humorist Jean Shepherd is an understandably popular selection for many theaters during the yuletide season. In a world where changes seem to occur at a dizzying rate the familiar and funny tale of a Midwestern boy’s 1940 Christmas is as welcome as eggnog, candy canes and mistletoe.

christmasstory3It’s also welcome because of the performers that bring us this story each year. That’s never truer than the appearance of David Compton as the Old Man and Miss Shields in this year’s show: Compton, who has been in the cast for four of the five Christmas Story productions, suffered a life-threatening cardiac episode Oct. 30 but has happily recovered enough to be a brilliant part of this year’s delightful run. I’ll take his hilariously imperious schoolmarm and his high-strung Old Man any year; the Tchaikovsky-infused ballet he shares with Jamie Farmer’s gentle and canny Mother is just one delightful example of Compton’s immeasurable contribution to this show’s success.

It’s testament to their abilities and professionalism that all the cast have continued to develop their characters over the years, and we reap the benefits. They give us so many marvelous moments, whether it’s the laugh of Andrew Kanies’ Randy (and the high pitch he provides to a well-known radio character), the giddiness of Farmer’s Helen, the appealing awkwardness of Geoff Davin’s Esther Jane (as well as the snarl of his Scut Farkas), the befuddled looks of Eric D. Pasto-Crosby’s Schwartz and David Wilkerson’s Flick (the two also make fine cowpokes) or other character-defining, story-propelling selections.

christmasstory5And what about Samuel Whited, who narrates as the adult Ralphie while portraying his nine-year-old incarnation? Well, his transitions are seamless, his choices natural, his timing impeccable and his delivery believable; he may be acting, but we never catch him at it. I can’t imagine anyone donning that pink bunny suit with more comedic, and endearing, results.

Gary C. Hoff’s ingenious storefront-meets-homefront set with December calendar floor is once again on beautiful display and warmly lit by the glow of Michael Barnett’s lights. Trish Clark – assisted by Colleen Burns Garatoni – has produced costumes that pay lively homage to the period and the characters Shepherd created. And how about the many items properties master Evelyn Pearson is responsible for? This play wouldn’t be the same without such pieces as that humorously vulgar lamp.

christmasstory9Producing Artistic Director René D. Copeland and Assistant Director Martha Wilkinson have tied this well-paced present together with emphasis on the sweet-natured fun the actors – and audience participation throughout – provide. So, have yourself a merry Christmas Story by joining Tennessee Rep for a happy helping of their annual holiday treat.

Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s production of  A Christmas Story directed by René D. Copeland continues through Dec. 22 in Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Johnson Theater (505 Deaderick St.). Performances are at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Tickets (Starting at $45) are available at the TPAC box office downtown or online by clicking here. For more information call (615) 782-4040 or visit


*Photos from 2012 A Christmas Story production by Britanie Knapp courtesy Tennessee Repertory Theatre.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (


  1. Thank you for the excellent review Evans! As always I love how you notice even the tiniest detail that goes into the theatre we craft. You are a treasure to our Nashville theatre community, thank you!