DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – With a movie, knowing it’s make believe is a given. With a play, the make believe comes with the illusion of reality. There’s something about watching people in flesh and blood act out a story.

And so Evergreen Theater creates the illusion of images on a screen coming to life with a holiday favorite.

The play version of “A Christmas Story” includes all the essentials that have made the 1983 movie so much a part of holiday TV viewing each year, only live on stage:

+ The rowdy Bumpus dogs.

+ The tongue stuck to the icy pole in the schoolyard.

+ The smoky coal-burning, clinker-making furnace with The Old Man cussing up a storm.

+ The slightly sassy leg lamp.

+ Mom in a cat-and-mouse game with The Old Man about keeping that lamp lit, or not.

+ The Lifebuoy soap in the mouth.

+ The pink bunny sleeper.

+ The struggle to write the best theme in the history of the world.

+ The visit to a gruff department store Santa.

+ The homey Parker home.

+ Young Ralphie Parker’s school.

+ The schoolyard bully Scut Farkas.

+ A fantasy with desperados.

+ Kid brother Randy flopping around on the ground like a caught fish in his too-too-much snowsuit.

+ Fantasies with Ralphie’s teacher and desperados.

+ Many other flashbacks to kid life in a small Indiana town the 1940s are all there.

+ And, of course, the quest for the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time. AND many people warning Ralphie, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Evergreen Theater’s production is faithful to the characters and story – making for enjoyable watching.

There’s some devotion involved, too. The troupe put on “A Christmas Story” in 2016, and Justin Gulmire is back as director. The Old Man from that cast, Norm Shonkwiler, has returned with all the guy’s comical grumpy, bumpy tumbling through life. Bill Sergott, the adult Ralph in 2016, is now assistant director. The current Ralph is Eric D. Westphal, who probably likes the role in part because he gets to say, “the definitive radio announcer” – radio announcing being his day job.

This and that about the production:

++ Four more performances to Dec. 18 will be well attended, with some seats still available.

++ Choreography is involved in this production – but no dancing. There are a lot of scene changes, and the backstage crew has got the comings and goings of set pieces down to clockwork. One impressive bit of choreography has to do with Eric D. Westphal as he weaves around the performance space as narrator. When not on, he sits on steps in one of the aisles. When on, he is followed by a single spotlight. Sometimes, he starts speaking in a specific spot at a specific time that the spotlight is illuminated. There is much more to making a production work than people talking in character. These sequences are solid, plus Eric D. Westphal tells so much of the tale with emphasis in all the wry commentary, ironic quip or dead-on comical crack.

++ Game for the big, big Parker brothers roles are Isaac Helsted as the ever-worrying Ralphie and Peter Smies as quirky kid-brother Randy. They’re very well prepared as they bring vitality to their characters.

++ As Mother, Jami Thompson is filled with nuance in voice and expression as a woman dealing with husband with a mind of his own and two kids in the anything-goes stage in their life.

+ As Miss Shields, the teacher with a class of near-renegades, Phoebe Olderman excellently plays the shifting role. She’s teacherly and over-the-top swoony over Ralphie’s “masterful” term paper and cacklely witchy in Ralphie’s imagined nightmare.  

++ The three-quarters “round” performance space allows for some playing with action scenes. Notably, it’s Scut Farkas (Astrou Gartzke) and Dill (Ian Lemke) chasing the desperate Schwartz (Michael Lamm) and Flick (Vesper Witter) up and down aisles and across the stage.

++ Always the hardest scene for community theaters to pull off is the visit to the Higbee’s Santa. The movie has the slide, the Santa and the foot nudge. I’ve only seen two out of three in the productions I’ve seen in the region. Evergreen Theater has the suffering Santa present (Martin Prevost), with the slide imagined.

++ This is a play that the audience watches and does not applaud individual scenes. That sometimes happens with movies brought to the local stage. It happened before with Evergreen Theater’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which also included Eric D. Westphal in a leading role. At the time, I didn’t get what was happening. Sometimes people apparently watch with a kind of reverence.

Overall, this production radiates care in telling a story so many people simply love.


Running time: Two hours, 25 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Dec. 15, 16, 17; 2 p.m. Dec. 18


Creative: Sources: 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark and “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” written by Jean Shepherd; director – Justin Gulmire; assistant director – Bill Sergott; stage manager – Grace Sergott; assistant stage manager – Katie Schroeder; costume designer – Dana Cordry; hair and make-up designer – Jackie Ploor; prop designer, set dresser – Kathy Treankler; lighting designer – Jack Rhyner; set designer, master carpenter – Mike “Gizmo” Gregare; assistant carpenter – Nick Ferry; production coordinator – Adam Elmergreen; sound designer – Erin Basten


Ralph as an adult and storyteller/The Cowboy/The Tree Lot Owner/The Delivery Man/Voice of a Neighbor – Eric D. Westphal

Ralphie Parker at age 9 – Isaac Helstad

Mother – Jami Thompson

The Old Man – Norm Shonkwiler

Randy – Peter Smies

Miss Shields – Phoebe Olderman

Flick/Desperado 1 – Vesper Witter

Schwartz/Desperado 2 – Michael Lamm

Esther Jane Alberry – Emily Chevalier

Helen Weathers – Monica Smies/Darcin Wright (Dec. 15-18)

Scut Farkas/Black Bart – Astrou Gartzke

Dill – Ian Lemke

Santa Claus – Martin Prevost

Nellie Marcella Miller – Penelope Monfort


NEXT: (Young Actors): “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” Feb. 9-12. (Mainstage/blended cast): “A Thousand Cranes” and “Ghost Light,” Feb. 17-26.

THE VENUE: The 190-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts, 315 3rd Street, De Pere. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. Seating is on fabric seats of the college’s dark green color, with metallic backs and wood arm rests. Handrails are placed in stairway aisles leading to seats. Above can be seen the “innards” of a theater for lighting and other technical needs. The production booth is on the second level above the audience entry in a rear corner. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action. The space is busy all year around with community and campus productions.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee of the airline. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had many friends in the greater Green Bay community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.